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Just How Hard Is It To Quit Vaping?

Inam Rehman, manager of Jubilee Vape & Smoke Inc., vapes while discussing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's push to enact a statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes amid growing health concerns, Monday Sept. 16, 2019, in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)
Inam Rehman, manager of Jubilee Vape & Smoke Inc., vapes while discussing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's push to enact a statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes amid growing health concerns, Monday Sept. 16, 2019, in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Vaping deaths and injuries are getting attention. Kicking the habit isn’t so easy. What works?


Luka Kinard, 16-year-old high school junior. In 2018, he spent 39 days at an inpatient treatment center for a severe vaping addiction.

Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program and associate professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. ( @BostonChildrens, @harvardmed)

Kara Tierney-Trevor, South Portland High School social worker. She works with SoPo Unite, a club that promotes an anti-vaping message at South Portland High School.

What It’s Like To Get Hooked On Vaping As A 14-Year-Old In High School

“I first started vaping my freshman year of high school. I was 14 years old and it was presented to me on my first Friday night football game,” Kinard says. The school’s juniors and seniors at the time presented him with vape.

“I was very quick into it. For me, at first, it was just a way to fit in,” he says. “Then, quickly, I became addicted but I never realized it. I was so dependent on that to relieve my stress.”

Kinard says he would vape “every waking moment, 24/7.” He was addicted for 15 months.

“As you get up in the morning, the first thing you do, instead of brushing your teeth or, you know, getting out of bed, is you get your morning buzz,” he says. “So, you hit your vape. And then, at school, it’s kind of like work. At work, you have your smoke breaks, but you don’t have that in school. So instead, you do it in the classroom, you do it in the bathrooms.”

It wasn’t just Kinard vaping, though. He says a “majority” of his classmates were doing it. He estimates that he would go through a pack of vape pods a day — about $150 worth of pods per week.

Kinard says he was upfront with his family about his vaping, because he wanted to use it to quit smoking cigarettes.

“Which, at the time, was the misconception,” he says. “Just because it was safer doesn’t mean anything that it’s safe.”

His addiction took over. He went from being a straight-A student to failing. He was missing out on other extracurricular activities. And, in September 2018, he had a seizure. That’s when his parents decided he needed to go to rehab.

“They force you to stop. You have no access to anything. So you’re completely cold turkey, and you’re in a controlled environment, which is really good,” Kinard says of his rehab program. “They have three different groups. So whether it’s a group on sobriety, or whether it’s just a group on self-awareness, or a group on healthier ways to communicate — and there’s also one-on-one therapy, so there’s a lot of activities that you did in rehab to stop.”

Kinard is back in school after a 39-day stay in rehab, but he takes online classes.

“When I first got back out of rehab, I went back to school, and it just wasn’t a healthy environment for me to be sober,” Kinard says. “But, also, now I’m doing all this advocacy, I’m doing all this travel, it gives me more time to have a more flexible schedule.”

His advice for parents and teens?

“The biggest thing I want to tell parents, especially, is to be accepting and to be supportive. Your child, as they’re going through addiction, as they’re thinking about it — all they want is a shoulder to lean on. So be that shoulder, be that support,” Kinard says. “And then, the second thing I would tell, for the youth, whether you’re about to try it or if you are using it, there are healthier alternatives no matter what your cause may be — to relieve stress or to fit in. There’s a healthier alternative. So I challenge you guys to find this healthier alternative.”

From The Reading List

Wired: “ So You Want to Quit Vaping? No One Actually Knows How” — “Remember when e-cigarettes were supposed to be the safer way to smoke? With cases of a mysterious, sometimes lethal respiratory illness on the rise, that myth has gone up in a cloud of … vapor. Fearful of being reduced to wheezing, bed-ridden hospital patients, a growing number of users are trying to kick their vaping habit.

“But how do you quit the product that was supposed to help you quit?

“Basically, no one knows. ‘It’s a major research gap,’ says Rachel Grana, the program director at the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch.

“E-cigarettes often contain nicotine, THC, or both. But their design can make them more addictive, and harder to quit, than regular cigarettes. Vape pens can deliver greater doses of nicotine because they use nicotine salts, which are smoother to inhale. Add in tempting flavors like ‘I love cookies’ and ‘Unicorn milk,’ and tobacco’s harsh flavor is almost completely obscured, making it easier to use the devices frequently and to get addicted faster.

“Those features can catch unsuspecting users by surprise, especially teenagers. Some kids who started vaping had no idea e-cigarettes even contained nicotine, says Yvonne Prutzman, also a program director at the National Cancer Institute. A recent survey finds that the number of teenagers who say they’ve vaped in the preceding month has doubled in the past two years. Almost 12 percent of high school seniors say they now vape daily.”

Wall Street Journal: “ Teens Ignored Vaping Warnings For Years. Now, Some Are Scared.” — “For years at Buffalo High School here outside Minneapolis, many students were defiant about vaping. Now, some of them are starting to get scared.

“Mounting deaths and mystery illnesses are beginning to raise new fears among kids. ‘I think it was supposed to be a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. That’s like not the case anymore,’ said Nicole Odeen, a 17-year-old senior at Buffalo High in this town of nearly 16,000 located about 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis. ‘Hundreds are in the hospital. With anything you’re putting into your lungs, you’ve gotta know there’s got to be some downsides to it,’ said junior Elle Kaiser, 16.

“Concerns about the health consequences of vaping are hitting the epicenter of the public health crisis around e-cigarettes: the American high school. ‘People are thinking, “This is a big deal. I’ve got to pay attention.” It is horrible that it had to come to the tragedy of kids losing their lives, but now it’s at least in front of people,’ said Mark Mischke, the principal of Buffalo High School.”

The Verge: “ People are throwing their Juuls out windows and drenching them in water just to quit” — “Henry Korman is exactly who Juul wants using its e-cigarettes. He’s not a teen, and he’s a former smoker, so he thought substituting a vape for cigarettes was a healthy decision when he switched two years ago. But then, he wanted to quit the Juul, too. He tried multiple times, cold turkey, to no avail. The Juul addiction stuck around, at least until he found sugar snap peas.

“‘I carry around this big bag of sugar snap peas to keep me occupied and replace the Juul,’ he says. ‘I used to say “phone, keys, wallet, Juul” — that’s what I needed to have before I left the house. But now it’s “phone, keys, wallet, peas.” ‘

“Korman’s not alone in trying to kick his Juul habit. What started as a way for some people to wean themselves off cigarettes has turned into a new kind of addiction made worse by the ability to vape just about anywhere. In other cases, people who started vaping just because the Juul was around have developed new nicotine habits. For both types of users, quitting has proven immensely difficult.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.