Gradual Nicotine Reduction Key to Helping E-Cigarette Users Quit, Study Finds
New research from UBC Okanagan shows that nicotine reduction is essential in helping e-cigarette users quit.
The study, published in this week’s issue of Internet Medical Research Journal, has implications for young adults who are currently addicted and want to quit using e-cigarettes, commonly known as vapes.
Vaping has become a popular global phenomenon, with over 40 million users worldwide. Despite this growth in popularity, many current vapers admit to wanting to quit, especially young Canadians. In fact, over 60% of 15-19 year olds who vape said they tried to quit in the past year. Our study is the first to use the social media forum, Reddit, to find out how they break this habit and how they can be better supported. “
Dr Laura Struik, Assistant Professor, UBCO School of Nursing and Principal Investigator of the study
According to Health Canada, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. Unlike cigarettes, vaping does not require combustion, rather the device heats a liquid into vapor, which then turns into an aerosol.
Dr Struik and Youjin Yang, a recent Bachelor of Nursing graduate from UBCO, analyzed 1,228 public posts from 318 users on a Reddit “stop vaping” forum. The information was categorized according to the method of abandonment, reasons for abandonment, and obstacles and facilitators to abandonment.
“We chose social media to collect our data because this is where individuals, especially young people, the heaviest e-cigarette users, share their experiences, including those on health,” says Dr Struik.
Research has shown that negative health experiences were the main reason these people chose to quit smoking. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing and poor sleep were the complaints listed, which relate to Dr. Struik.
“This is very different from the number one reason smokers want to quit, which are future health issues,” she says. “We need to pay attention to these early adverse health effects. I am particularly concerned about the impact of vaping on young and healthy lungs. The fact that e-cigarette users experience such intense negative effects from vaping relatively early indicates that something different is happening biologically in relation to smoking. “
Dr Struik also notes that users have reported intense withdrawal symptoms and nicotine addiction as the main barrier to quitting.
“This is not surprising given that the most popular electronic cigarettes deliver very high concentrations of nicotine,” she says. “Additionally, previous studies suggest that the developing brain, like that seen in youth and young adults, is vulnerable to long-term nicotine addiction. This makes quitting more difficult for this population.”
For those who continued to quit, the study found that more than 65 percent said they preferred a phased-down approach. This involved gradually reducing the concentration of nicotine and then using different nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches and gum. To help with this, individuals have used distracting techniques like exercise, to keep busy, and to achieve a release of dopamine – the “feel good” neurotransmitter in the brain – from something other than vaping.
It should also be noted that e-cigarette users have expressed the need to have grace and a positive self-image when engaging in the quitting process.
“Health promotion efforts should include messages that don’t shame those who vape or have trouble quitting; instead, we need to strengthen and support each other to reduce exposure to health risks, like vaping. “
She suggests that online interventions can be particularly useful for this group, given that most of them are young and adopt digital platforms. “Here we have the opportunity to support them.
Dr Struik also notes that withdrawal guidelines, including pharmacological and behavioral approaches, specific to e-cigarettes are essential.
“The results of our research show that vaping and vapers are different from those who smoke tobacco. Therefore, the approaches to quitting should also be unique.”
University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus
Struik, L & Yang, Y., (2021) E-Cigarette Quitting: Content Analysis of a Stop Vaping Community on Reddit. Internet medical research journal. doi.org/10.2196/28303.