Young Adults Have Cut Back on Vaping During COVID-19: Here’s Why

  • A new survey indicates that two-thirds of teens and young adults have reduced their use of e-cigarettes, or quit altogether, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The young people surveyed said that lack of access to stores that sell vaping products was the main reason.
  • Experts add that closer parental supervision during pandemic lockdowns as well as concerns about overall health have also been factors.

Having more time on their hands during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t resulted in more young people taking up e-cigarettes in 2020.

If anything, it’s caused more of them to cut back, or even quit, according to a new study.

More than two-thirds of teen and young adult e-cigarette users in the United States have reduced their use during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a study published last week in JAMA Network Open.

However, researchers said 18 percent of those surveyed increased nicotine use, 8 percent used cannabis more, and 7 percent switched to other smoking products during the spring, when much of the country began shutting down in response to COVID-19.

The study surveyed 4,351 people from age 13 to 24 between May 6 and 14.

Researchers said the decline was mainly due to people having less access to stores.

Since the pandemic began, 32 percent of e-cigarette users said they quit. Another 35 percent said they’d reduced their use.

Both groups cited “product unavailability” as the main reason.

Doctors told Healthline the decline was likely due to a number of factors in addition to brick-and-mortar stores closing.

The factors included more parental supervision, less in-person socializing, and a heightened awareness of health issues.

Dr. Ilan Shapiro, a pediatrician for AltaMed in Southern California, said the survey provides some good news in 2020.

“The access to products is difficult,” Shapiro told Healthline. “If you’re home all the time, you’re being supervised more. They can’t share with other teens. It’s a social thing and, right now, that contact has diminished.”

Health also an issue

Shapiro also said the pandemic coincided with more research showing how harmful vaping can be to children.

“Two years before the pandemic, we were having issues with ‘vaping lung.’ Kids were going in hospitals,” Shapiro said. “We had an opportunity to teach in that moment. With the coronavirus, it’s probably helping awareness about teen vaping and the health implications.”

Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a New York-based expert in internal medicine, told Healthline store closures are “only a small piece of the puzzle.”

“There is truly not just one clear-cut reason as to why this group cut back,” she said.

Okeke-Igbokwe said parental scrutiny and lack of peer pressure were factors likely as big as store closures.

“Finally, there was a greater recognition and emphasis on the importance of heath maintenance worldwide, and this message resonated across all age groups,” she said. “Perhaps some level of fear was instilled in these teens and young adults about the extent to which vaping may harm their health and increase their risk of COVID-19 illness and complications.”

Parents get a closer look

The survey showed that as many as 20 percent of young users began buying products online since the pandemic began.

Many of those under 21 said they were able to buy e-cigarettes without any age verification.

Pat Folan, the director of Northwell Health’s Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, New York, told Healthline that family closeness necessitated by the pandemic opened some parental eyes as to what their children have been doing.

“Some studies indicate that parents whose children vaped were less aware of this behavior than parents whose children smoked traditional cigarettes,” Folan said. “With children being home more, parents are becoming more aware of the vaping and its addictive nature. Parents may be encouraging their teens and young adults (to) quit. We have had many calls to our tobacco cessation program from concerned parents regarding their children’s use of e-cigarettes and their request for help.”

Dangers become real

E-cigarettes have been advertised in some circles as a safe alternative to smoking, a claim many researchers now say isn’t valid.

“Some studies have associated vaping with a higher risk of COVID-19, but the bigger reason for the drop in vaping usage is an overall increase in awareness about the negative health impacts of vaping on teens and young adults,” Dr. Brian Wind, the chief clinical officer of national substance abuse treatment chain JourneyPure, told Healthline.

“Teens and young adults may feel infallible, given their young age, but media articles and news about other teens and young adults suffering illnesses, or even death, due to heavy vaping usage have made the dangers very real to them,” he added.

Wind, who is a clinical psychologist, said more regulations against flavored e-cigarettes can further bring usage down and help others to quit.

“Cigarette smoking was associated with bad breath and yellowed teeth, which may have led teens and young adults to turn to vaping instead,” he said. “By removing the flavors that mask the scent of e-cigarette smoke, the attractiveness of vaping may decrease. E-cigarettes are also very easy to conceal and rules on their design that makes them more conspicuous and less disposable may discourage their usage.”

The American Lung Association provides tips for young people and their parents to quit smoking and vaping.

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