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Many young people turn to nicotine to deal with stress, anxiety and depression, but don’t know it may be making them feel worse

Peer-reviewed research links nicotine use to the potential for worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression and increased odds of being diagnosed with depression, but many young people are unaware of this connection. In fact, according to Truth Initiative surveys, a large majority of young people who have used e-cigarettes started vaping because of feelings of stress, anxiety or depression, and many continue vaping to cope with these feelings.

According to an August 2021 Truth Initiative survey, 4 in 5 young people who had vaped said they started to lessen their stress, anxiety or depression. Additional data from Truth Initiative’s continuous tracking survey also show that young people turn to nicotine to cope: 1 in 2 young people who frequently vape (vape 20 or more days in the past month) say they must vape to manage their stress and anxiety.

The common misconception of e-cigarettes as a stress reliever could be rooted in the cycle of nicotine withdrawal. Irritability, anxiety and depression are some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and using nicotine relieves these symptoms temporarily. The tobacco industry has also invested significant resources in marketing that connects tobacco use with mental well-being, stress-relief, relaxation and pleasure.

These findings are alarming, especially since depression and anxiety among youth have doubled during the pandemic. That’s why truth has launched its latest youth e-cigarette education effort, “It’s Messing with Our Heads,” which includes the creation and marketing of a fake vaping brand called Depression Stick! that is “proud to be the first e-cigarette company to honestly admit vaping nicotine can amplify feelings of depression and anxiety.” Through its edgy product, the publication of Truth Initiative’s latest report, “Colliding Crises: Youth Mental Health and Nicotine Use” and more, truth is exposing the tobacco industry’s role in exacerbating the youth mental health crisis.

Educating youth about vaping’s mental health effects is critical

Data collected in June 2021 from Truth Initiative’s continuous tracking survey report that only 44% of 15- to 24-year-olds who frequently vape agreed that vaping can worsen anxiety and irritability. About half – 50.3% – of frequent vapers say they must vape to cope with their stress and anxiety, and 45% say it’s okay to vape for stress relief.

These sentiments mirror an August 2021 Truth Initiative survey on mental health, in which 81% of 15- to 24-year-olds who have vaped say they started to decrease their stress, anxiety or depression. More than three-quarters – 78% – of those who began to vape prior to the pandemic say they vape as much or more during it. In advance of many students’ in-person return to campuses across the country, 70% of 15- to 24-year-olds envisioned they would see their peers vape at similar or higher rates than they did before the pandemic.

Quitting vaping, in the long-term, improves mental health

However, there is good news. Quitting smoking is linked with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress and there is emerging evidence of a link between quitting vaping and improvements in mental health symptoms.

Truth Initiative survey data show support for this link. According to Truth Initiative’s continuous tracking survey, 47% of young people who quit vaping feel more in control than when they were vaping, and 90% feel less stressed, anxious or depressed. Of young people who had vaped but haven’t quit yet, 78% believe they will feel better about themselves if they do.

This Is Quitting from truth is the first-of-its-kind free and anonymous texting program to help young people quit vaping and has helped nearly 400,000 young people. Compared to a control group in a recent clinical trial, This Is Quitting increased quit vaping rates by 40%.

Young people can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709 to access This Is Quitting. Parents of young people who vape can receive support at BecomeAnEx.org. Free mental health resources provided by partners of truth can be found at thetruth.com/article/mental-health-resources.