Tag Archives: addiction

Clearing Up The Smoke Around E-Cigarettes in Vancouver

Late last year, Vancouver made the controversial move to ban the use of  electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in public places where smoking is prohibited as well as their sale to minors. The controversy behind the ban was evident by the results of a poll by Metro News, where out of over 2500 of its readers, 65% of people opposed the ban.

This may be because many people think of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, similar to that of products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. However, it is worth noting that in Canada, only e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine can be legally sold which means that e-cigarettes may not curb cravings as well as the aforementioned nicotine containing products. Regardless, when it comes to their safety in comparison to cigarettes, opponents may be on the right track. When the Canadian Cancer Society was asked whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, they said, “Yes, because the products contain no tobacco, nor tobacco smoke.”


E-cigarette and Cigarettes Side By Side Source: Flickr Commons                             Credit to: TBEC Review

So if e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than cigarettes, why the big fuss? An article in the Vancouver Sun about the topic made it clear that one of main causes of concern is the effect of e-cigarettes on youth. In the article, Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says that although e-cigarettes aren’t proven to be linked to any cancers, they are quite new and the vapour they produce may still contain certain carcinogens, cytotoxic chemicals and heavy metals present in tobacco smoke. Moreover, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that high levels of formaldehyde, a cancer causing agent found in cigarettes, was present in some varieties of e-cigarettes which is a concern as it would eventually be inhaled by the user.

Lastly, an article in the Metro adresses the concern that e-cigarettes are normalizing the concept of smoking  and are diminishing the work that has gone into making smoking ‘taboo’ in our society. Additionally, proponents for the ban argue that advertising for e-cigarettes often seems to be targeted to youth in terms of the different flavours available and the ‘fun’ packaging.

The YouTube video shown below is a great summary of the potential health risks of e-cigarettes.

YouTube Preview Image

Credit:  CNN on Youtube

In summary, although there is not much conclusive evidence out there on the dangers of using e-cigarettes compared to what is out there for cigarettes, I personally support Vancouver’s decision to go ahead with the ban because e-cigarettes are relatively new and it is hard to evaluate their long term effects. Additionally, when it comes to the health of our society, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to err on the side of caution.

Forget about the ‘Near Miss’

A 7-7-7 winning combination on a slot machine.  Source: Flickr Commons Image by: Bev Wager.

A 7-7-7 winning combination on a slot machine.
Source: Flickr Commons
Image by: Bev Wager.

Pathological gambling is a relatively common disabling psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to control gambling. Such pathological gamblers continue to gamble away their money despite repetitive and important losses that eventually negatively impact their lives. The ‘near miss’ theory has attempted to explain this kind of gambling behavior as well as how gambling can become a serious addiction.

Near misses’ are defined as failures that are close to being successful. This special kind of failure is useful in games of skill, as it can provide useful feedback to the participants, however, in games of pure chance, such as slot machines, crabs, poker games, or even the lottery, a ‘near miss’ does not carry any useful information as to what will happen next. In slot machines, for instance, a ‘near miss’ occurs when two reels of a slot machine stop on the same symbol on the pay out line, and that same symbol is found on the third reel either on the line above or below.

‘Near-misses’ do not provide any feedback for players in games of chance, unlike in games of skill. Source: Flickr Commons Image by: maorix.

‘Near-misses’ do not provide any feedback for players in games of chance, unlike in games of skill.
Source: Flickr Commons
Image by: maorix.

Back to our addicted gamblers, an interesting study has shown that ‘near-misses’ are perceived in different ways by different types of gamblers. Indeed, brain regions associated with wins in pathological gamblers are highly activated when they encounter ‘near misses’, whereas, in non-pathological gamblers, brain regions that are associated with losses are highly activated. This phenomenon is highly problematic as the activation of these ‘winning brain regions’ causes the reward system in the brain to be activated. Indeed, further studies have also shown this phenomenon in addicted gamblers by looking at dopamine activity, a chemical substance in the brain associated with rewards. Their results show that dopamine is released in high amounts when pathological gamblers encounter ‘near misses’. This dopamine activity is in turn associated with constant rewards,  which reinforces the gambler’s behavior to continue gambling despite losing.

Although pathological gambling is unlikely to be fully explained solely by the ‘near miss’ theory, this theory can in fact be a useful tool in attempting to treat individuals that suffer from this disorder. In particular, pathological gamblers could be trained to see themselves as constantly losing as opposed to see themselves as constantly nearly winning.

This short video clearly explains the ‘near miss’ mindset of pathological gamblers:


Sara Lariviere.