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Research Article Research Article

Health, cost, and desire to escape addiction drives young people to quit vaping

Teens and young adults enrolled in the quit vaping program from Truth Initiative said they were driven to quit because of concerns about health (50.9%), cost (21.7%), the desire to be free from addiction (16%) and social factors such as others’ impressions of them (10.1%), according to a Truth Initiative® study published in Addictive Behaviors. While health topped the list of reasons that drove young people to quit vaping, with some reporting concerns such as “I can’t breathe. My lungs are weak” and “I want my lungs back,” the study highlights the diverse experiences that motivated young e-cigarette users to quit in their own words and finds that health concerns were just one motivation to put their vapes down for good.

50.9%

More than half of users cited health concerns driving them to quit

21.7%

Cost was the second most common reason for wanting to quit

16%

Many were quitting because they wanted to live free from addiction

This is Quitting is a free, anonymous text message quit vaping program for teens and young adults 13–24 that has enrolled more than 200,000 people. The first-of-its-kind program incorporates messages from other young people who have attempted to, or successfully quit, e-cigarettes. Early in the program, users were asked to share why they wanted to quit vaping. Researchers categorized texted responses provided by 1,000 youth ages 13–17 and 1,000 young adults 18–24 enrolled in the program between January 18 – February 22, 2019.

“Unlike the relatively frivolous reasons that many youth provide for vaping initiation (e.g., to experiment/to see what it’s like, because it tastes good, to have a good time with my friends), these data show that the reasons they want to quit are serious and often heartbreaking,” the authors write.

More than half of users (50.9%) cited health concerns driving them to quit and many of those were general health concerns (“I don’t wanna die”). Many also referred to worries about their lung health and the uncertainty surrounding vaping’s potential future health effects, which remain unknown: “It could destroy my health” and “because i don't want to mess up my body when I’m older. i don't want to do something that will just hurt me later in life when it was a mistake i made when i was in high school.”

Young people also commonly connected vaping to negative effects on physical performance, especially in sports: ‘‘I want to become healthier. I want to be able to run and do cardio workouts without not being able to breathe….” or ‘‘I’m an athlete and don’t want vaping to affect my lung capacity. Excelling in my sport is so much more than getting a good buzz.”

Cost and desire to be free of addiction drive quitting

Although health was the most common reason for quitting, many users reported negative impacts in other areas of their life too, including decreased performance in school or sports. Cost was the second most common reason for wanting to quit (21.7%), with young people saying things like “I don’t have enough money to feed my addiction” and “‘Waste of money and I don’t like the way it makes me feel about myself.”

Many did not cite health or finances at all, but instead said they were quitting because they wanted to live free from addiction (16%). Examples included ‘‘It’s gotten to be too much,” ‘‘I’ve been addicted to nicotine for 2 years. . . and I want to be done,” and “it’s really addictive and I’m trapped.”

Researchers noted that the respondents were more likely to report “freedom from addiction” as a reason for quitting vaping compared to similar studies that examined motivations to quit among young adult smokers. They suggest that since teens included in the current survey grew up in the context of a national, decades-long opioid epidemic, they may have a more acute understanding of addiction than teens who came before them. Responses from young people on reasons they wanted to quit vaping were otherwise similar to young adult smokers previously studied.

Roughly 10% of users also cited concern about others’ impressions, including concerns about losing friendships and setting a bad example for others, with statements like “I’m not making my family proud” or “‘I want to be a good example for my brothers.”

Many vapers reported more than one reason for quitting, signaling that a multitude of reasons ultimately drives someone to make a quit attempt and seek support.

Teens concerned about performance, age

Young adults 18-24 were more likely than teens 13-17 to report cost (26.5% vs. 16.7%) and the desire to be free from addiction (19.4% vs. 12.5%) as reasons for quitting. Conversely, teens were more likely than young adults to report academic, sport or other performance issues (12.4% vs. 5.4%) or being too young (4.5% vs. 0.8%) as their motivations for quitting.

Reasons for quitting often reflect current events. For example, youth and young adults reported concerns about E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) symptoms in August 2019 during a national spate of cases, and concerns about COVID-19 in 2020.  

Enrollment in This is Quitting speaks to the desire for treatment support among young e-cigarette users. Over 25,000 young people enrolled in This is Quitting within the first five weeks of the program launch in January 2019, and as of September 2020, more than 200,000 young people have enrolled.

The research base on e-cigarettes has appropriately focused on larger, population-wide studies focused on initiation, prevalence, and transition to cigarettes. This study provides a window into the motivations of young people to quit that aren’t typically included in larger population studies and shows that vaping is profoundly affecting young people. Young people who vape said ‘‘It is hurting the people I love the most and nothing good ever comes out of it” and ‘‘Because it has changed me as a person and I don’t want to die.”

According to the authors, the wide range of reasons that motivate young people to try quitting e-cigarettes – health, financial, social, and academic– should be part of discussions informing e-cigarette policies and cessation programs. “Our broader hope is that these data provide a human face to prevalence statistics and highlight the diversity of ways in which young people feel their lives have been negatively impacted by using e-cigarettes, beyond direct physiological harm,” the authors write.

To enroll in This is Quitting, teens and young adults can text DITCHJUUL to 88709.

Are you a parent of a young person who vapes? Parents can text QUIT to (202) 899-7550 or visit BecomeAnEX.org to sign up to receive text messages designed specifically for parents of vapers.

Adults looking for support to quit vaping or stop using any tobacco product can visit BecomeAnEX.org, our free digital quit smoking platform that offers comprehensive web and mobile tools.