There is no denying that vaping is popular among teens, with one-third of US high school students reporting they have vaped or used other electronic nicotine products recently, according to a 2019 study.
It doesn’t stay cool for all of them, with almost half of surveyed teens reporting they seriously thought about quitting, according to new research. Nearly 25% said they tried to quit but failed.
That’s dangerous for teens, who are at high risk of nicotine addiction and switching to cigarettes. And people who are addicted to nicotine have a higher risk of complications from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The findings align with “other research indicating that there is a significant risk of developing nicotine dependence symptoms among teens that use e-cigarettes,” said research coauthor Adam Leventhal, the director of the University of Southern California Institute for Addiction Science.
The research also “highlights the urgent need for treatments that can help youth who are trying to quit stay quit,” said research coauthor Jennifer Dahne, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina.
The research letter precedes the upcoming September 9 deadline for e-cigarette manufacturers to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration to keep their products on the market. Companies are responsible for demonstrating the appropriateness of their products for the protection of public health.
The new research is “the clearest sign that once (kids) get hooked, they realize what’s happening to them,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“The absence of regulation has meant the e-cigarette industry has marketed highly flavored products that appeal to kids (and) deliver nicotine that rapidly leads to intense addiction.”
Products that come in a variety of sweet flavors and sleek shapes and deliver high doses of nicotine “should not be allowed on the market because of their proven appeal impact on youth,” Myers added. “How the FDA deals with the applications it will receive over the next month will directly affect the number of our kids who become addicted to tobacco products over the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
Addiction refers to a person’s loss of control over use of substances and is associated with changes in your brain’s “reward center,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Levy wasn’t involved in the research.
A teen or adolescent’s developing brain is more susceptible to these changes than mature adult brains. “When these changes occur,” Levy explained, “the rational decision-making part of the brain loses out to the more instinctual parts and people find themselves using nicotine even when they really want to quit.”
Addiction doesn’t go away on its own, but quitting can be easier when people prepare in advance and receive professional help. Read on to learn how to begin the journey.
Know why you’re quitting
Your awareness of the dangers associated with nicotine hasn’t made you successfully quit vaping. Knowing why you want to quit can empower you to make choices that lead you to your goal, according to Smokefree Teen, a US National Cancer Institute initiative.
Think about what really matters to you and how vaping gets in the way of those things. Is vaping affecting your feelings, money or relationships with people who are important to you?
Answering these questions can help you see how vaping is affecting your life, maybe in ways you hadn’t realized. Keep a list of the reasons you want to quit on your phone and read it when you feel the urge to vape.
Commit to an end date
Setting a quit date is good so that you can mentally prepare, Levy said. A date no more than one to two weeks away is best — it’s enough time so that you can feel confident, but not too much time that would allow you to change your mind.
Don’t pick the day before anything stressful, like an exam. On your phone, set an alert for the day.
Create your quit plan
Once you have your date, talk with your doctor about your concerns and goals. Smokefree Teen has a tool for creating a personal quit plan based on your everyday life. The tool can help you prepare to quit, track your experiences and stay on course.
Know what to expect
Knowing the possible challenges ahead can help you stick to your plan.
“Nicotine is a stimulant and lots of teens who use it like the feel or the ‘buzz’ they get from it,” Levy said. “But over time, most people find that the buzz is harder and harder (to reach) as you develop tolerance and your body starts to accommodate to the nicotine.”
Withdrawals can make quitting uncomfortable and especially for the first week or two. If you experience symptoms and cravings, talk with your doctor about medications that could help. “Hang in there because the withdrawal symptoms pass in time and cravings become less and less intense over time,” Levy said in an email.
Maybe you vape with friends and vaping is part of how your group spends time together. Since hanging around them while you’re quitting can be challenging, you might want to see other people for a while. Some people find they are eventually able to spend time with friends who vape without being triggered to follow suit, Levy said.
If your friends don’t understand you, explain why quitting is important to you and ask them to respect your decision. Because of the risks associated with vaping, there are many health benefits to gain by quitting. Depending on the dose, Levy said, nicotine and other chemicals in vaping devices can cause:
“Being addicted to tobacco products means that adolescents don’t have full control of their use,” said research coauthor Tracy Smith, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina. “If they are able to quit, they get that control back.”
Identify triggers, seek social support and have some self-compassion
- Lung damage
- Dizziness, vomiting or seizures
- Difficulty concentrating and learning
- Symptoms of depression
- Greater risk of using cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs
- Hindered or abnormal brain development
Triggers — certain people, situations or feelings — can lead you to act in ways that might be bad for your health.
“Identifying yours and thinking through new coping strategies can prevent you from reaching for a vape,” Levy said. If your trigger is seeing other people vaping, maybe take a break from social media.
The study also found that 57% of adolescents who currently vaped nicotine had depressive symptoms in the last year, and 61% had anxiety symptoms, Dahne said.
If you’re vaping to relieve troubles, psychological treatment and healthy activities such as walking or listening to music can help manage your stress and take your mind off vaping. You can also find a replacement behavior, like chewing gum or calling a friend.
Doing this on your own can be hard, Levy added, so ask for support from your doctor, family and friends. Be specific about what you need — maybe they can keep you distracted so you don’t vape. Others can help keep you accountable while you’re trying to change, Levy said.
And don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up, which can happen several times. “Acknowledge that relapse is normal when trying to change any behavior, including quitting vaping,” Dahne said. “It’s important to learn from what worked and what didn’t work during past quit attempts and to try to quit again.”
If vaping is something you regularly do, imagining your life without it might be hard. The you who feels weird at first will eventually become your new normal.
Imagine your vape-free self
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Thinking of yourself as someone who doesn’t vape can separate you from vaping and give you the confidence to move forward. Write a list of all the great things about yourself that don’t involve vaping — vaping doesn’t define who you are.
Picture the future you who you want. How does that person compare with who you are now? How does vaping stand in the way? All of these steps can help you bridge that gap.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the proportion of study participants who tried to quit vaping.