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Surgeon General joins Truth Initiative Impact Series to discuss nicotine and mental health

The first Surgeon General to release a report on youth e-cigarette use, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, joined Truth Initiative CEO and President Robin Koval and Daniel Ament, an activist and former vaper, to discuss the links between youth nicotine use and mental health.

While it is well known that nicotine can make young people more susceptible to addiction, peer-reviewed studies show that nicotine can intensify a user’s symptoms of anxiety and depression. These data, gathered in a new Truth Initiative report, underscore the seriousness of the youth vaping epidemic and its collision with the youth mental health crisis, with the prevalence of symptoms of depression and anxiety doubling for adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest Truth Initiative Impact Series, “Exposing Vaping as a Mental Health Issue,” was first broadcast as part of a larger session at The Atlantic Festival called Thrive: A Youth Mental-Health Summit. Underwritten by Truth Initiative, the summit also brought together advocacy groups, researchers and young people to talk about ways to find hope and solutions amid the growing youth mental health crisis.

“There is a growing body of science that is showing us nicotine may also impact our mental health,” said Dr. Murthy. “We all know that the pandemic has taken a real toll on our mental health and physical health, and we have to do everything we can to make sure we’re bolstering our health at this time of crisis.”

“Most teenagers I've met who are still addicted to vaping know they have a problem and want to quit but do not have the mental power or enough of a reason to do so,” said Ament, who spoke about how he went from being a healthy four sport varsity athlete to one of the first recipients of a double lung transplant during his junior year of high school after vaping e-cigarettes for nine months.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues for young people and, unfortunately, the very thing many young people are turning to for relief can actually make it worse,” said Koval. Four in five young people surveyed who have used e-cigarettes (81%) did so as an attempt to lessen their stress, anxiety or depression, according to an August 2021 Truth Initiative survey.

In its latest youth e-cigarette education effort, “It’s Messing with Our Heads,” truth created a fake vaping company called Depression Stick! to expose nicotine’s role as a contributor to the worsening youth mental health crisis. Through a TikTok takeover, pop up shops, influencer unboxings and a hidden-camera style advertisement following its VP of marketing as he tries to “sell depression,” Depression Stick! underscores the mental health impact of real nicotine vape products like JUUL, Vuse, blu, Logic and NJOY, the leading e-cigarette brands popular among youth.

The Truth Initiative Impact Series is a robust, recurring event that brings together key stakeholders and experts to engage in thought-provoking conversations about ways we can innovate and inspire action to achieve a culture where young people reject smoking, vaping and nicotine. The goal of this thought leadership series is to convene diverse partners in tobacco control and other public health organizations, parents, teachers, and policy makers who can benefit from Truth Initiative’s work.

In case you missed it, watch our previous Impact Series events: “Unvaping America’s Youth” and “Not Buying It: The Tobacco Industry’s Rebrand.”