CHAMPAIGN — As an outbreak of lung injuries and deaths linked to vaping has continued to grow, some vapers may be considering that it’s time to quit.
But breaking up with e-cigarettes can be hard to do — especially for teens and young adults.
Younger people become easily addicted to the nicotine in most vapes and then suffer such nicotine effects on their brains as a poorer ability to concentrate and control their impulses, experts say.
Teens and young adults who vape are also more likely to be making their first attempt to quit — unlike many adults who have past experience from previous tries quitting tobacco, said Megan Jacobs, one of the developers of This is Quitting, a free mobile program that helps teens and young adults 13-24 quit vaping.
“Every time you try to quit, you learn different things about what will work for you and what won’t,” she said.
Teens who want to quit vaping are further challenged by being in the midst of many of their peers who are vaping at school and in social settings, Jacobs said.
Teens have indicated vaping is so prevalent that it’s become common to sneak a vape hit while sitting in a class, she said.
Not as many older adults are vaping, Jacobs said, “so it’s not something as omnipresent as it is for young people.”
Nationally, there have been more than 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung injury cases and 48 deaths this year.
In Illinois, 80 percent of the cases have been linked to vaping THC-containing products, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
One doctor said local community resources to help young people stop vaping are scarce.
“Unfortunately, there is a dearth of resources in the area for this younger population, as most smoking cessation attention focuses on the adult population,” said Dr. Donald Davison, a pediatric pulmonary medicine specialist at Carle.
Teens trying to quit vaping would likely benefit from the use of nicotine replacement therapies — such as patches, gum and lozenges — that can help ease nicotine cravings, according to Davison. But these products aren’t approved for use under age 18, and dosing guidelines and data on how effective these options would be for this age group are lacking, he said.
“Currently, what we can offer is one-on-one education for these children and their parents,” Davison said. “Of course, this only goes so far, as teens believe themselves to be invincible, and that vaping-associated lung disease does not apply to them.”
Teens as young as 13 can contact the American Lung Association/IDPH Illinois Tobacco Quitline for help — though it focuses on smoking cessation.
Be aware, the state quitline won’t provide nicotine replacement therapies to anyone under 18, according to lung association spokeswoman Jill Thompson. Those under 18 who want to try these products are advised to consult their doctors, she said.
Smoking cessation drugs and nicotine replacement therapies are currently an off-label use for vaping cessation. Pediatricians can consider prescribing them off-label for patients under 18 who are addicted to nicotine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Pediatricians can help educate kids about the harmful effects of vaping and nicotine, said Christie Clinic pediatrician Dr. Whitney Gutierrez.
“Behavioral support is going to be number one, and then nicotine replacement therapy is something that they’re looking into to support vaping cessation, given that nicotine is very addictive,” she said.
There’s definitely a need to address the vaping issue in the local community, Gutierrez said.
“We know that e-cigarettes are dangerous for children and teens, and we have a chance to protect a generation and need to act now,” she said.
Not the same
There are similarities between quitting smoking and quitting vaping, in that they both have a goal of making behavior changes, according to Kami Lafoon, wellness special projects coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public District.
But she and others say there also are some differences between the two. And, given that vaping is still relatively new, vaping cessation research is still in early stages.
One of the differences, according to Jacobs, is that many smokers are motivated to quit by the physical effects they notice. Smokers cough and wheeze. They can wind up with a yellowing of their teeth and skin and a telltale smell lingers on the breath.
Vaping doesn’t come with many of these effects, and it can be done much more discreetly, Jacobs said. The market-leading e-cigarette Juul, for example, can produce a much more discreet puff.
Jenny Daab, a nurse practitioner at the Urbana School Health Center, said she hasn’t had many kids tell her they’re vaping, but she’s aware that kids often don’t know what they’re getting when they’re handed a vape.
“They think it’s just a fun flavor water vapor,” she said.
That’s why education about vaping is important, she said. So is getting at the underlying reasons that kids and teens may be using e-cigarettes.
“On some level, it’s giving them a form of relief,” said Steve Smith, administrator of child and adolescent services at the mental health and substance abuse treatment agency Rosecrance.
Teens can become more easily addicted to nicotine, because brain development continues until about age 25. And vaping nicotine can easily become a learned response to deal with anxiety, stress and depression, Smith said.
It’s important to help kids and teens who are using e-cigarettes to self-medicate to understand there are other options to help feel better, he said.
“I don’t think a lot of kids think going for a walk, or meditating can be powerful,” he said.
This is Quitting
Lafoon suggested teens who want to quit vaping check out This is Quitting, a program launched in January by the nonprofit Truth Initiative.
More than 59,000 teens and young adults have signed up for the program, according to Truth Initiative.
Early results have been encouraging, Jacobs said.
Among 10,000 participants who answered assessment questions after two weeks, 61 percent said they had stopped using e-cigarettes, or used them less, the organization reported. Nearly half of teens and nearly 40 percent of young adults took advantage of the opportunity the program offers to text CRAVE, STRESS or SLIP to receive additional support.
This is Quitting was created with input from teens and young adults who have tried or succeeded in quitting vaping. Participants provide their ages and what vaping products they use and receive help and encouragement through daily text messages.
Teens who are interested but not quite ready to quit can receive texts for a month designed to get them ready and build their confidence. Those who set a quit date will receive a week of messages prior to the date and at least eight weeks of messages after their quit date to help them deal with social pressures, motivation, cravings and other challenges.
Some of the texts incorporate messages from participants’ peers, Jacob said.
“We know quitting is hard, and we want to reassure young people they’re not alone,” she said.
Smith said text messaging support can provide positive reenforcement for youths trying to quit.
But he urges parents to educate themselves and have a vape talk based on the facts with their kids.
He also advises parents to keep in mind that scare tactics won’t have the desired effect of getting teens to quit vaping, and can even make vaping seem all the more exotic to them.
“Kids aren’t hard-wired to think things through long-term,” Smith said.
Parents also shouldn’t assume they know why their kids are smoking or vaping, he said.
“The best thing parents can do is try to educate themselves, and sit down and talk to their kids, Smith said.
The American Lung Association has two programs targeted at helping teens stop vaping.
NOT (Not on Tobacco) is a smoking and vaping cessation program for teens 14-19. The lung organization said it’s most effective in small group settings.
INDEPTH is a class that can serve as an alternative to suspension for teens caught vaping at school.
Another resource to check out through the National Institutes of Health: teen.smokefree.gov/quit-vaping.