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How quitting nicotine can improve mental health

With a youth mental health crisis intensifying alongside an ongoing vaping epidemic, nicotine’s misleading reputation for relieving stress is especially problematic. 

According to a body of peer-reviewed research gathered in a Truth Initiative report, nicotine can worsen anxiety symptoms and amplify feelings of depression. The common misconception that nicotine relieves stress, anxiety, and depression, may 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 good news? Quitting can alleviate these symptoms and lead to long-term improved mental health, and free, anonymous quit support tailored specifically to young people is available.

The illusion of nicotine as stress reliever

Does smoking and vaping relieve stress?

Many misinterpret the effects of tobacco products as a stress reliever. Indeed, Truth Initiative surveys show a large majority of young people who have used e-cigarettes started vaping to lessen feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, and many continue vaping to cope with these feelings. Though they may be looking to nicotine for relief, many young people are unaware that vaping may make their symptoms worse.

It’s critical to recognize that the cycle of nicotine withdrawal, subsequent nicotine use, and alleviation of symptoms all starts with nicotine addiction in the first place. In addition, the tobacco industry has invested significant resources in marketing that connects tobacco use with mental well-being, stress-relief, relaxation, and pleasure.

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. As many vape brands do, enticing young people to try and use tobacco products, Depression Stick! boasts fruity flavors like Citrus Sadness and Disappoint-mint, drawing attention to how the youth vaping epidemic and youth mental health crisis are colliding.

Quitting nicotine can alleviate mental health symptoms

Does quitting vaping help with anxiety

Quitting smoking is linked with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as improved positive mood and quality of life compared with continuing to smoke, according to a 2014 meta-analysis of 26 studies about smoking and mental health published in the British Medical Journal.

Similarly, 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 between quitting nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and improved mental health outcomes.

  • 90% of those who quit said they felt less stressed, anxious, or depressed
  • 47% of respondents who quit vaping reported that when they quit vaping they felt more in control
  • 78% of respondents who reported ever vaping but had not quit said they would feel better about themselves if they quit vaping

Free and anonymous quit support is available

Resources for quitting vaping

Previous Truth Initiative research published in Preventive Medicine Reports show high interest in quitting among young people. A majority of current young e-cigarette users surveyed say they intend to quit, with one-third reporting a past-year quit attempt and 15% aiming to quit in the next month.

This Is Quitting, the first-of-its-kind texting program from the truth campaign to help young people quit vaping, has become a resource for nearly 400,000 young people and is free. To access it and receive immediate help, teens and young adults can text “DITCHVAPE” to 88709. Parents of young people who vape can receive support at BecomeAnEx.org. Additional quit programs from Truth Initiative include BecomeAnEX, a free, digital quit-smoking plan and online community of thousands of smokers and ex-smokers developed in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, and the EX Program, which expands on BecomeAnEX to provide an enterprise-level tobacco cessation program designed for employers and health plans.