April 26, 2022

E-cigarettes may complicate teen attempts to quit nicotine

At a Glance

  • Among U.S. teens, unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking rose in 2020 after years of decline—a reversal that might relate to the recent rise in vaping.
  • The findings suggest that targeting e-cigarette distribution and use by teens could potentially reduce nicotine use and its harmful health effects.
Teen looking skeptically at an electronic cigarette Researchers have been investigating the complicated effects e-cigarettes can have on attempts to quit smoking.Aleksandr Yu / Shutterstock

Nicotine use is a habit often formed early in life. In addition to helping to make smoking, with all its harmful health effects, very addictive, nicotine can prime the brain’s reward circuits for the use of other drugs.

Over the years, nicotine use has declined in U.S. teens. This is the result of intense tobacco control efforts targeting this age group. From 1997 to 2020, nicotine use in teens fell by 41%. However, the recent popularity of e-cigarettes has been complicating efforts to further reduce nicotine use. Between 2017 and 2019, nicotine vaping rose dramatically among teens before leveling off in 2020 and beginning to decrease in 2021.

A team at the University of Michigan led by Dr. Richard Miech explored trends in teens who were trying to quit smoking. They used data collected by the Monitoring the Future study from 1997-2020. Each year, a sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders were surveyed at their schools. Students were asked, “Have you ever tried to stop smoking cigarettes and found that you could not?” In 2020, they were also asked, “Have you ever tried to stop vaping nicotine and found that you could not?”

The researchers examined cigarette smoking and quit attempt responses from over 800,000 U.S. teens. The study was funded by NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Results appeared on March 22, 2022, in JAMA.

The team found that students reporting unsuccessful attempts to quit cigarette smoking reached a low of 1.27% in 2019, but then rose to 2.23% in 2020. This was the first rise since 1997. In addition, 4.12% reported unsuccessful quit attempts for e-cigarette vaping in 2020, nearly double that for cigarette smoking. In total, the percentage of all teens who reported an unsuccessful quit attempt was 5.74%.

“These results indicate that failed nicotine quit attempt levels have gone back to where they were about 17 years ago for adolescents,” Miech says.

This study included only one year of information on e-cigarette quit attempts. More research is needed to understand the impact of vaping on quit attempts, including whether vaping is contributing to the lack of quitting success among teens.

—by Larisa Gearhart-Serna, Ph.D.

Related Links

References: Failed Attempts to Quit Combustible Cigarettes and e-Cigarettes Among US Adolescents. Miech R, Leventhal AM, O’Malley PM, Johnston LD, Barrington-Trimis JL. JAMA. 2022 Mar 22;327(12):1179-81. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.1692. PMID: 35315899.

Funding: NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).