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Vaping is the term for smoking an electronic cigarette. The device heats liquid, containing nicotine and other chemicals, into a vapor that can be inhaled. They can resemble cigarettes, flash drives, pens, and other objects.

Nicotine is extremely addictive and e-cigarettes deliver a lot of it: One pod of liquid contains the nicotine equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. The popularity of vaping has left many individuals, especially young adults, newly addicted to nicotine.

Vaping is not currently approved by the FDA as an aid to quit smoking. However, clinical trials have found evidence that e-cigarettes can be an important tool to achieve that goal—and in some cases, they may be as effective as nicotine replacement therapy.

What Is Vaping?

Vaping began to surge in popularity only recently, so the habit may not be familiar to everyone. Scientists and federal agencies have begun to study e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, as well as their influence on development and health, but there’s still a lot to be learned about the consequences of continual e-cigarette use.

What’s in a vape?

Most electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but the devices can also deliver other drugs such as the cannabis-derived compounds THC and CBD. The components of the device include a cartridge of liquid containing nicotine (or another substance), a chamber where the liquid is vaporized, and a rechargeable battery.

Is vaping addictive?

Yes. E-cigarettes are just as addictive as conventional cigarettes. They contain the chemical nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance that’s hard to stop consuming. Since vaping has risen dramatically among teens, many adolescents may have an addiction to nicotine as they enter adulthood.

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Is Vaping Safe?

The aerosol in e-cigarettes contains far fewer dangerous chemicals than the 7,000 found in regular cigarettes. But the vapor isn’t completely safe. In addition to nicotine, it contains flavoring that is often made from the chemical diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease. The aerosol also includes particles of harmful organic compounds and metals like nickel, tin, and lead.

Vaping is dangerous for adolescents, as nicotine can disrupt healthy brain development, which continues until around age 25. Vaping is also not safe for pregnant women, because nicotine can harm both the expectant mother and the developing fetus.

Connections between neurons are still forming in the brain during adolescence. Nicotine can render the brain vulnerable to changes in the regions that govern impulse control, attention, and learning. It may also elevate the risk for mood disorders and addiction to other substances.

What does nicotine do to the brain?

Nicotine acts on acetylcholine receptors, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in attention and memory. Nicotine’s activity in the brain also releases dopamine, which acts on regions like the nucleus accumbens, part of the brain’s reward network, which contributes to its addictive nature. This is why nicotine can boost mood and sharpen attention. The effects arrive quickly but they also fade quickly, which can generate symptoms of withdrawal and fuel the cycle of addiction.

What’s the connection between vaping and lung disease?

In the spring of 2019, mysterious cases of respiratory illness began to emerge in adolescents and adults who used e-cigarettes. It was an enigma to the medical community, who came to refer to it as E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI.) As of February 2020, the CDC reported 2,807 hospitalizations for EVALI. Sixty-eight of those individuals died. Although this disease should be taken extremely seriously, it’s also important to note that it’s very rare, as more than 40 million people worldwide use e-cigarettes.

The CDC recommends that no one begin using e-cigarettes who doesn’t currently use tobacco products. But those who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking may want to continue in consultation with a doctor.

Vaping and Teens

Vaping has spread through teen social circles with remarkable speed. One reason is that e-cigarette companies, most notably Juul Labs, directed marketing efforts toward teens, many of whom had never picked up a cigarette.

Between 2018 and 2019, the percentage of high-schoolers who reported vaping in the past 30 days jumped from 20 percent to 28 percent. For middle schoolers, the percentage rose from 5 percent to 11 percent. More than 3 million youth use e-cigarettes as of 2020, according to the CDC.

Is vaping safe for teenagers?

E-cigarettes are not considered safe for children or teens, according to the CDC, as they pose a risk to the developing brain. Nicotine may make it more difficult for young people to concentrate, learn, and control their impulses. Additionally, vaping products that contain THC has been linked to a deadly lung disease, EVALI, that has hit patients as young as 15 years old.

How common is vaping in adolescence?

The vaping trend skyrocketed at the beginning of the decade. E-cigarette use among high school students increased by 900 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to a US Surgeon General's Report. Yet as of 2020, the trend may have begun to reverse. About 1.8 million fewer U.S. youth regularly smoke e-cigarettes in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the CDC.

Still, 3.6 million youth continue to use e-cigarettes. That represents nearly 20 percent of high school students (3.02 million) and about 5 percent of middle school students (550,000).

How to Quit Vaping

Nicotine is a powerful substance, so quitting is no small feat. It often requires multiple attempts, but with appropriate therapy—and persistence—it’s always possible to permanently stop vaping.

How do you quit vaping?

Nicotine replacement therapy is one of the most effective treatments to help people stop vaping. It slowly delivers smaller quantities of nicotine through a patch or gum to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. Therapy can also help change behavior to overcome addiction, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

What have other people found helpful when trying to quit?

One woman’s story of quitting vaping revealed what made her final attempt different than previous ones: letting go of specific quit dates, using oral substitutes such as gum, mentos, or sunflower seeds, journaling to release and organize thoughts during withdrawal, praying, intention-setting, or otherwise acknowledging and asking for help, and changing the narrative of being a “vaper.”

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