If you’ve ever tried to quit vaping, then you know how challenging it can be.
Although research published in July 2022 in JAMA Network Open found a slight decrease in overall e-cigarette, or vaping, users, daily e-cigarette use by current users rose from 34.5% in 2017 to 44.4% in 2020. The daily usage is likely linked to dependence on the nicotine in e-cigarettes, according to the researchers.
The FDA and the American Lung Association agree that vaping is at epidemic proportions among young people, which include middle- and high-schoolers. A 2022 survey from the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 2.8% of middle school students and 11.3% of high school students used e-cigarettes.
Although some people, particularly adults, may use e-cigarettes as an alternative to traditional cigarettes (also called combustible cigarettes), many of them still contain nicotine. In fact, the amount of nicotine may be similar or higher to that in a pack of cigarettes with some products, says J. Lee Westmaas, scientific director of behavioral research for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. E-cigarettes can be an option when attempting to quit traditional cigarettes, but research about their effectiveness to help with quitting smoking is mixed. E-cigarettes aren’t yet approved by the FDA as a smoking cessation aid.
Dangers of Vaping
E-cigarettes without nicotine are available, but often contain other chemicals and flavorings that may be just as harmful and can affect lungs in both growing and developed persons. One example is an outbreak of lung injuries called EVALI, reported in 2019 and 2020, that were linked to vaping. Vitamin E acetate was frequently added to the e-cigarettes used by those with EVALI. This was found in e-cigarettes with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. There were more than 2,800 hospitalizations and 68 deaths died to the EVALI outbreak.
A condition called popcorn lung also can be caused by the chemicals in vaping — specifically, diacetyl, which gives microwave popcorn a buttery flavor. Diacetyl is also added to some e-cigarette flavors. Popcorn lung causes inflammation and scarring in the lung’s smallest airways, called the bronchioles.
[Read: 9 Best Ways to Quit Smoking.]
Why You May Want to Quit
There are several reasons why you may want to quit vaping:
— You’re concerned about the nicotine or chemicals in e-cigarettes.
— You don’t like being dependent on something.
— You have to quit because of an upcoming surgery.
— You’re noticing health consequences. For instance, you may be the all-star soccer player who can’t run as well as before or the babysitter who has trouble keeping up with the younger kids, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, co-director of Medicine for the Greater Good and director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore.
Health Effects of Vaping
The long-term health effects of vaping are still unclear because e-cigarettes haven’t been around as long as traditional cigarettes, Westmaas says. However, lung damage and nicotine addiction are two potential effects. In younger users, nicotine can affect impulse control and mood disorders. That’s because the brain continues to grow until the mid-20s, but nicotine can affect and even change the formation of brain synapses.
Some of the short-term effects of vaping include:
— Trouble breathing.
Health experts are concerned that people who vape may eventually switch to traditional cigarettes. This concerns them because of the known dangers of traditional cigarette smoking. A 2019 study from JAMA Network Open found that one in five young people who began with e-cigarettes eventually switched to traditional cigarettes.
When It’s Time to Quit
Although you can try to quit vaping at any time, there are some specific signs that indicate it’s a good time to quit:
— You want to save money, and e-cigarettes devices and liquids are eating too much into your budget.
— You feel as if you need vaping to get going in the morning.
— It’s hard not to do certain activities, such as socializing or having a cup of coffee, without also vaping.
— Friends or family tell you that you’re vaping too much.
— You notice ways that vaping affects your health, such as not being able to run as well without feeling like you’re out of breath more quickly.
10 Tips to Quit Vaping for the Long Term
If you currently vape, you may be interested in quitting. But how can you do this? Here are some long-term solutions for how to quit vaping:
1. Identify why you vape and why you want to quit.
2. Set a quit date.
3. Find allies.
4. Use counseling.
5. Try nicotine replacement therapy.
6. Learn how to say no firmly.
7. Find a healthy habit to replace the time you usually spend vaping.
8. Talk to your health provider about a gradual versus cold-turkey approach.
9. Give it time.
10. Use available resources.
Identify why you vape and why you want to quit.
Do you vape out of boredom? To be part of social situations? For stress or anxiety relief? If the reasons you vape and why you want to quit are clear, you can use those as motivations to move forward during your quitting experience.
Set a quit date.
This is advised by Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, the Albert E. Kent professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Krishnan-Sarin also researches substance abuse. Having a specific date in mind gives you something to plan for, and you can put it in your calendar. Avoid a date or time of the week that you know tends to be stressful.
Surround yourself with people who will support your efforts to quit. This could be people who have quit smoking or vaping already. Or, it could be a supportive family member or friend. These are the people to turn to if you’re having a weak moment or need to vent. This same person or people can help remind you that you are committed to quitting, Krishnan-Sarin says.
A therapist who can help address why you vape and how to stop can go a long way toward quitting vaping for the long term. Therapists also can help teach you skills tailored to your vaping triggers, says Dr. Sidarth Wakhlu, director of the Addiction Psychiatric Fellowship Program and associate director of the Addiction Division in the Department of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
If you vape for stress relief or anxiety, a therapist can suggest other ways to cope.
You can compare the costs and time commitment involved with in-person versus virtual counseling. Nicotine Anonymous meetings in-person and online may be helpful. Those meetings may not be specific enough to get to the bottom of why you vape and how to quit, but you may meet others in your situation and be able to provide support to each other when dealing with cravings or setbacks, Westmaas says.
Try nicotine replacement therapy.
The tips to quit e-cigarettes are similar to those for quitting combustible cigarettes, and this includes the potential role of nicotine replacement therapy. These include:
— Nicotine-based patches.
— Nicotine gums.
— Nasal sprays.
The patches can help reduce your overall cravings for nicotine; the gums, lozenges and sprays are designed for in-the-moment cravings.
Oral medications like varenicline and bupropion, which are available by prescription, are also approved to help reduce nicotine cravings. And they don’t have nicotine in them. You can use them at the same time as nicotine replacement therapy.
Learn how to say no firmly.
For younger people who are in social situations where vaping is common, it may be a challenge to say no, Krishnan-Sarin says. She works with patients to teach them how to say a firm but polite no — not a wishy-washy one, and not one that is overly aggressive. Many young people have found this effective and that people respect your decision when you state it politely but firmly, she says.
Find a healthy habit to replace the time you usually spend vaping.
With combustible cigarettes, a person who smokes a pack a day and takes 10 minutes each time to smoke suddenly finds themselves with more than 200 minutes of free time, Wakhlu says. That’s a lot of extra time when you quit.
Vaping may be even more insidious as it doesn’t always have an odor, leading some people to use it more continuously. The key is to find a healthy habit to fill up that extra time that you used for vaping. It could include:
— Calling a friend or family members.
— Talking to co-workers if you’re at work.
The challenge is getting through that 15- to 20-minute period where you feel the desire to vape by distracting yourself with something positive, Wakhlu says. If you continuously vape, you can still rely on these healthier choices to help get you through the day. However, you may need to double down on your efforts. A combination of nicotine replacement, counseling and having strategies to distract yourself will help a lot.
Talk to your health provider about a gradual versus cold-turkey approach.
There’s no tried-and-true method to quit. Many health experts favor a gradual approach as stopping all at once tends to lead to more side effects, like feeling anxious or having sleeping problems, Wakhlu says. That said, some people prefer the idea of completely quitting. Discuss which approach might work best for you with your health care provider.
Give it time.
There’s a chance that you won’t stop vaping the first time you try to quit. If you start vaping again, try to quit again. Stay persistent in your efforts. And be easy on yourself. Although the timeline to quit differs for each person, Galiatsatos likes to check in with patients looking to quit at three to six months. For some, it takes longer — even a couple years. “It’s a process,” Wakhlu says.
Use available resources.
There are a number of free resources available to quit vaping. Some of these are geared toward anyone who wants to quit. Others target young people. These resources and helplines include:
— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
— This is Quitting, a free and anonymous texting program that provides support to teens and young adults who are looking to quit vaping. This program is offered as part of the Truth Initiative, which also offers resources geared towards parents of teens who are vaping.
Benefits and Side Effects of Quitting
There are several benefits associated with quitting vaping:
— Clearer breathing.
— Cost savings from not having to buy e-cigarette devices and liquids.
— Improved lung health by avoiding the nicotine and chemicals in e-cigarettes.
— Time saved from not constantly vaping.
There also are some side effects when quitting vaping. These symptoms are associated with nicotine withdrawal:
— Cravings for nicotine.
— Feeling anxious, irritable or sad.
— Increased sweating.
— Mood swings.
— Problems concentrating.
Success Is Possible
Wakhlu likes to remind physician trainees who see patients in poor health from nicotine addiction that he also has had many patients who’ve successfully quit. No matter what you’re reasons for quitting, know that success is possible. It may be a long road, but your health will thank you in the long run.
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Correction 09/20/22: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Truth Initiative is a free recovery program; the Truth Initiative’s resource program is called This is Quitting.