Nicotine may cause dependence, but there is a lot of debate about whether “addictive” is even the correct term for a drug that causes no permanent damage to most users. It’s probably more accurate to say that cigarette smoking is addictive. When you inhale smoke, nicotine is delivered quickly to the bloodstream and the brain, producing a rapid reward that the brain craves again and again. Tobacco smoke also has other constituents like ammonia that increase the smoker’s desire for more. It’s not just the presence of nicotine that makes smoking addictive.
Other kinds of nicotine products deliver it with less of an addictive punch. The FDA says nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like gum and patches “do not appear to have significant potential for abuse or dependence.” There’s no reason to assume that vaping is any more addictive than those products.
And, in fact, a 2014 study from two well-known nicotine researchers concluded that, “E-cigarettes may be as or less addictive than nicotine gums, which themselves are not very addictive.” So…not only not as addictive as heroin, but not as addictive as nicotine gum — which the FDA says isn’t addictive at all.