A UBC Okanagan research study — which took the unusual step of analyzing online Reddit posts — determined that most young people trying to quit vaping are doing so because of early adverse health effects.
The study, published in this week’s issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, has implications for young Canadians who are currently hooked and want to stop using e-cigarettes, commonly called vapes, the university said in a statement.
“Vaping has become a popular global phenomenon, with more than 40 million users worldwide,” said Laura Struik, assistant professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing and lead researcher of the study.
“Despite this growth in popularity, many current vapers admit they want to quit, particularly young Canadians. In fact, over 60 per cent of youth —ages 15 to 19— who vape reported trying to quit in the last year. Our study is the first to use the social media forum, Reddit, to find out how they are breaking this habit and how they can be best supported.”
E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. and Canada around 2007 with the promise of providing smokers with a less harmful alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapour that’s inhaled.
But there has been little rigorous study of whether e-cigarettes truly help smokers quit.
And efforts by the FDA to begin vetting vaping products and their claims were repeatedly slowed by industry lobbying and competing political interests.
In recent years, the vaping market grew to include hundreds of companies selling an array of devices and nicotine solutions in various flavours and strengths.
But the vast majority of the market is controlled by a few companies including Juul Labs, which is partially owned by Altria, and Vuse.
UBC Okanagan’s research showed that negative health experiences, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing and poor sleep were the complaints listed among Reddit users.
“This is very different from the No. 1 reason that smokers want to quit smoking, which is future health concerns,” said Struik.
“We need to pay attention to these early adverse health effects. I’m particularly concerned by the impact of vaping on young and healthy lungs. That e-cigarette users are experiencing such intense negative health effects from vaping relatively early indicates that something different is going on biologically compared to smoking.”
Struik also notes that the users reported intense withdrawal symptoms and dependency on nicotine as the top barrier to quitting.
“This is not surprising given that the most popular e-cigarettes deliver very high concentrations of nicotine,” she said.
“In addition, previous studies suggest that the developing brain, such as that seen in youth and young adults, is vulnerable to long-term nicotine addiction. This makes quitting harder for this population.”
She suggests that online interventions may be particularly useful for this group, given that most of them are young and embrace digital platforms.
“We have an opportunity here to help support them.”
— With files from The Associated Press