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Breath of Stress Air is calling a vape what it truly is

With the new youth prevention and education effort Breath of Stress Air, truth is debunking the marketing of e-cigarettes as stress relievers and calls out the tobacco industry for selling vaping as a way to deal with stress, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, research shows vaping nicotine can increase anxiety symptoms and stress levels.

Breath of Stress Air expands the latest campaign from truth, It’s Messing with Our Heads, which exposed nicotine’s role as a contributor to the worsening youth mental health crisis through the launch of a fake vaping company called Depression Stick! Nicotine use and mental health are linked in many ways, according to a body of peer-reviewed research gathered in the Truth Initiative report “Colliding Crises: Youth mental health and nicotine use,” which highlights how nicotine can worsen anxiety symptoms and amplify feelings of depression, and a new resource, “Nicotine Use and Stress,” which explores the stress connection in-depth.

With content premiering during NCAA March Madness that disrupts the sounds and visuals of typical wellness content with stressful pop-ups resulting from nicotine use, “Breath of Stress Air” alerts young people to the role nicotine can play in increasing rather than eliminating stress. Also comprised of partnerships with TikTok influencers and a TikTok takeover, a Snapchat lens encouraging users to destress, new episodes of the truth YouTube series “Quitters” which follows young people using This is Quitting on their quit vaping journeys, and youth activism emphasizing to decision makers that vaping is a mental health issue, Breath of Stress Air aims to give people the facts about vaping’s connection to stress and resources to quit vaping and address mental health issues.

The campaign follows a youth mental health advisory by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in which he called worsening youth mental health an “urgent public health crisis.” Depression and anxiety symptoms for adolescents doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published in JAMA. Meanwhile, youth vaping continues at epidemic levels, with more than 2 million high school and middle school students using e-cigarettes, according to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Selling the myth of stress relief

The common misconception that nicotine is a stress reliever may be rooted in the cycle of nicotine withdrawal. Irritability, anxiety, and depression are some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and using nicotine may relieve these symptoms temporarily.

The tobacco industry has also invested significant resources in marketing that connects tobacco use with mental well-being. From an early Camel cigarette ad that depicts a relaxed smoker with the text, “It’s a psychological fact, pleasure helps your disposition. For more pure pleasure – have a Camel,” to a pandemic isolation-themed Puff Bar ad calling the e-cigarette brand a way to “stay sane” and “the perfect escape from back-to-back zoom calls, parental texts, and WFH stress,” the tobacco industry often depicts its products as stress relief.

Research by Truth Initiative shows that, during the pandemic, a large majority of young e-cigarette users started using e-cigarettes to lessen feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, and many continue vaping to cope with these feelings. In a Truth Initiative survey, four in five young people who have used e-cigarettes (81%) said they did so as an attempt to lessen their stress, anxiety, or depression. Recent data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show that, among students who currently use e-cigarettes, most cited feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression and the “high or buzz” associated with nicotine as reasons for use.

“The tobacco industry has a long history of attempting to distort public perception about its products and has even used a global pandemic to promote the false claim that vaping nicotine can relieve stress,” said Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative. “We are putting the power back in the hands of young people by spotlighting the truth and raising awareness that vaping nicotine not only impacts physical health, it also can increase stress levels and worsen anxiety symptoms.”

Quitting vaping benefits mental health

As quitting smoking is linked with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, there is emerging evidence of a link between quitting vaping and improvements in mental health symptoms. Additionally, according to a Truth Initiative survey, 90% of young people who quit vaping feel less stressed, anxious or depressed.

Many young tobacco users want to quit. Of the 2.55 million youth who currently use a tobacco product, more than 6 in 10 (65.3%) want to quit and 60.2% reported that they stopped using all tobacco products during the past 12 months because they were trying to quit, according to new data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

On top of exposing the truth about nicotine use and stress, Breath of Stress Air connects people with resources including This is Quitting, the first-of-its-kind free and anonymous quit vaping program from truth that is helping more than 420,000 young people seeking to break free from e-cigarette use. Compared to a control group in a recent clinical trial, This is Quitting increased quit vaping rates by nearly 40%.

As part of Breath of Stress Air, truth has also partnered with the app Breathwrk to incorporate breathing exercises into This is Quitting to help with nicotine cravings that cause stress and anxiety. This is Quitting users can access six months of free membership to Breathwrk Pro, including access to custom breaths to help on their quit journey, by texting “BREATHE” to 88709.

Using the power of breath, young people nationwide are mobilizing to demand action from decision makers to declare youth vaping a mental health issue. Young people will take a “collective breath” online and organize “breathe in” efforts offline in their community and on campuses to culminate in the truth Moment of Action on April 27. Young people can join the movement online by visiting thetruth.com/mentalhealth2022.