3 myths about mental health and quitting nicotine
The tobacco industry has historically targeted groups that are economically and socially marginalized, including people with mental health conditions. Industry influence, combined with other factors, has contributed to a higher prevalence of tobacco use among people with mental health conditions compared to the general population.
Young people today are experiencing two colliding crises: the ongoing youth mental health crisis – an urgent public health issue addressed in the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory in 2021 – as well as the youth e-cigarette use crisis. E-cigarette use among young people has increased in recent years, with over 2.5 million middle and high school students reporting e-cigarette use in 2022. This has implications for mental health because nicotine harms the developing brain and can intensify anxiety symptoms and feelings of depression.
When it comes to nicotine and mental health, there are some common myths that can bring about challenges and questions. To bust these myths, we turned to the experts who run This is Quitting, a text message based quit-vaping program by Truth Initiative®.
Myth: e-cigarette users with mental health conditions don’t want to quit.
Fact: people with mental health conditions who vape nicotine want to quit just as much as people without mental health conditions.
In a 2020 study of intention to quit vaping nicotine among U.S. teens age 12-17, data from This is Quitting showed a similar motivation to quit among teens with and without anxiety and depression symptoms. The study also found that the number of quit attempts was largely consistent across users with past-year depression and anxiety symptoms and those without.
Why does this myth prevail? Decades of targeted messaging by the tobacco industry has given rise to the idea that tobacco products are “relaxing” and “stress relieving.” In addition, the tobacco industry has funded research that aims to link tobacco use with mental health benefits. The truth is, nicotine use is linked with amplified anxiety and depressive symptoms. For more details on how tobacco has been marketed as a stress reliever, read our article on how tobacco companies linked cigarettes and mental health.
Myth: e-cigarette users with mental health conditions can’t quit.
Fact: with the right resources and support, people with mental health conditions who vape nicotine can quit.
A 2021 study of the effectiveness of This Is Quitting for quitting vaping among young adults demonstrated no significant differences in quit outcomes among young adults with a range of mental health presentations, and those who reported no mental health issues.
Why does this myth prevail? Many people with mental health conditions have other life challenges that may make it harder to quit vaping nicotine. These may include: more proximity to other people who use tobacco, fewer quitting resources available, and stronger dependence on nicotine. While additional challenges may exist for people with mental health conditions, they can quit with the right support and treatment.
Myth: quitting nicotine can make mental health condition symptoms worse.
Fact: for people who experience depression, anxiety, or stress, quitting nicotine can make you feel better.
According to peer-reviewed research gathered in a Truth Initiative report, vaping nicotine can intensify symptoms of depression and anxiety and increase stress levels. For many people, quitting nicotine can help alleviate these symptoms and lead to an improvement in mental health.
Why does this myth prevail? When people who use nicotine try to quit, they often experience several withdrawal symptoms including irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping, or feelings of anxiety or depression. These symptoms are temporary, but they are sometimes misunderstood as worsening symptoms of mental health conditions.
For more information on mental health and nicotine use, read our report on youth mental health and nicotine use. Check out the latest campaign from truth®, Toxic Therapy, which illustrates how nicotine addiction can intensify symptoms of depression and anxiety and interfere with sleep.
Resources for quitting
Truth Initiative has resources for young people and adults to support quitting nicotine.
If you are planning to quit vaping nicotine, it is always a good idea to speak with a health care provider, especially if you have a serious mental health condition or are considering medication to help you quit.
This is Quitting
This is Quitting is a free and anonymous text messaging program from Truth Initiative designed to help young people quit vaping. The first-of-its-kind, evidence proven quit program has helped over 500,000 young people to date on their journey to quit vaping.
This article was originally published on May 12, 2023.