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Experts say the strong nicotine hit provided by e-cigarettes as well as the product’s social acceptability makes it difficult to quit. Getty Images
  • A new survey reveals that nearly half of teens who vape would like to quit, but few are successful in doing so.
  • Experts say vaping can be difficult to give up due to the intense nicotine hit e-cigarettes provide as well as the socially acceptable status of the electronic devices.
  • They add there are a number of organizations as well as online programs that can help people stop vaping.

Nearly half of teenagers who vape would like to quit, according to a study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics.

Over the past year, 1 in 4 of those same teenagers have tried to quit e-cigarettes without success, according to the survey of nearly 15,000 children from 12 to 17 years old.

“More teens are learning about the negative effects of vaping as causes of lung disease, and deaths linked to vaping are on the rise,” said Brian Wind, PhD, the chief clinical officer at the Nashville-based JourneyPure treatment centers.

“However, teens find it difficult to quit vaping because it has become a large part of teen culture,” Wind told Healthline. “It’s extremely hard to avoid vaping when everyone is doing it. Many teens who vape also have a nicotine addiction, so they experience withdrawal symptoms, such as irritation and restless, anxiety, and intense cravings.”

The Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study is a long-term collaboration between the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health.

About 500 participants, almost 4 percent of the survey, said they’d used an e-cigarette product during the previous 30 days.

Slightly less than 50 percent said they wanted to stop vaping within the following 30 days, and 17 percent said they hoped to quit at some point the next year.

Among those same teen vapers, 57 percent said they had symptoms of depression, while 61 percent said they had symptoms of anxiety.

The study stated that 25 percent of U.S. high school students in 2019 said they vaped in the previous 30 days. Almost 12 percent reported daily use of electronic nicotine products.

“This is a population-based study that really gets to the heart that, although most kids want to stop vaping, there is something that is preventing them from quitting,” said Dr. Osita Onugha, a thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.

“In fact, 25 percent of those in the study tried to quit within the past year of when the results were collected. This really demonstrates there is some addiction that set out very early, and that we need interventions now to help these kids quit vaping,” he added.

“And, more importantly, we should prevent these kids from starting to smoke in the first place,” Onugha told Healthline.

Part of the problem with vaping is that it’s been sold as a less-dangerous way to still use nicotine, said Dr. Sameer Khanijo, the medical director of the respiratory care unit at North Shore University Hospital in New York.

“A 2019 study in the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) found that most people who used vaping products to quit cigarette smoking were still using the vaping product 1 year later, compared to other transitional nicotine replacement products,” Khanijo told Healthline. “In other words, people appear to be trading one addiction — cigarettes — for another addiction — vaping.”

Khanijo said vaping may be more difficult to quit than cigarettes because the delivery of nicotine is quicker. He said the misconceptions about vaping’s safety are numerous.

“The idea that vaping is not as bad is part of what has led to the explosion of youth vaping. The fact that 45 percent of teens are wanting to quit is a step in the right direction, but hopefully those numbers will increase. What is more important is that currently we know it’s extremely difficult for people to stop smoking cigarettes.

“It takes most users multiple attempts. Nicotine is very addictive, in any form, and attempting to stop can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can be scary and lead most users to return to nicotine use,” Khanijo said.

Part of the allure, and the difficulty of quitting, e-cigarettes is how they’re marketed to younger users, said Danielle Roeske, PsyD, the executive director of the Newport Academy, a nationwide chain of rehabilitation centers for young people.

“Typically, e-cigarettes are harder to quit using, especially where teens are concerned,” Roeske told Healthline. “E-cigarettes and vapes are usually flavored, which appeal to young users. There can be the illusion that vaping is harmless or has minimal risk and is superior to cigarettes. But, in truth, vapes can deliver a higher dose of nicotine that is smoother to inhale, making it more addictive, and therefore harder to quit.

“The idea that vaping is better for you than smoking is patently and demonstrably false. Vaping has been linked to severe, long-term health issues, including cancer, respiratory disease, and heart disease. It’s also been linked to short-term health issues, such as acid reflux, shortness of breath, coughing, fevers, and nicotine dependence,” Roeske added.

Young people perceive other, more practical advantages to using e-cigarettes, according to Danielle Ramo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco who researches and speaks on teen vaping.

“Vaping poses some additional challenges compared to other tobacco products because most vaping devices are more discrete, smaller, and have a less pungent odor than combustible products like cigarettes,” Ramo told Healthline.

“Plus, it’s easier to dose throughout the day because teens can have a single puff without needing to put it out like a cigarette. So, it may be difficult to stay away from vaping entirely in the early stages of quitting,” she said.

“That being said, it is encouraging that so many teens who vape are reporting a desire to quit in the present study,” Ramo added.

Ramo said there are plenty of free resources for teens and their families to help with quitting.

She mentioned a partnership between Hopelab, the American Heart Association, and All Mental Health called Talk Vaping with Your Teen, an online resource offering up-to-date information about vaping and tips on quitting.

She also recommended the Truth Campaign’s This is Quitting program (also accessed by texting DITCHJUUL to 88709), the National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree Teen, and National Jewish Health’s My Life, My Quit programs.

Joanna Cohen, PhD, the director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, suggested the “Quit Monday” approach to quitting.

“Set a Monday quit date, write down a quit plan, connect with others — build a support team of friends, family, and trusted professionals — do a Monday check-in,” Cohen told Healthline.

“Each week, review what is working, identify challenges and vaping triggers, celebrate weekly success, and recommit to quit if you (use again),” she said.