In the UK, as many as 3.2 million adults regularly vape. It is often viewed as a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, and while this may be true in some respects, vaping does not come without its dangers. With so much misinformation circulating on social platforms, UKAT aims to shed some light on this growing trend and look at the truth surrounding vaping addiction.
Is vaping really a harmless habit?
Vaping remains a popular topic of conversation and has frequently appeared in headlines since its emergence. One woman told The Independent she has “vowed to never touch a vape again” after being left on life support as a result of her vaping addiction. Amanda was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome which may impact her long-term. She said, “[Vaping] seems harmless until it isn’t. You never know what can happen – I thought it was no big deal when I started.”
While it is likely that a few puffs on a vape every now and then will not cause a great deal of harm, vaping addiction is another story. There is a marked difference between casual vaping and vaping addiction, with the latter penetrating every corner of your life.
With vaping addiction, cravings for the vape may feel like an itch you just can’t scratch, making you anxious and irritable. Intrusive thoughts about vaping can cause disruptions at work, school or in relationships, with the urge to vape taking precedence over everything else. Trying to stop will likely give rise to the onset of withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, restlessness, insomnia, sweating and depression. It is these withdrawal symptoms that make it so incredibly tough to quit.
What makes vaping addictive?
Sadly vaping addiction is a very real phenomenon and has the potential to lead to serious health issues. But what makes e-cigarettes addictive? Well, the answer is in the presence of nicotine in vaping products.
- Is a stimulant drug
- Activates reward pathways in the brain
- Causes a release of adrenaline or a ‘buzz’
- Can be responsible for feelings of dizziness, headaches, rapid heart rate, nausea and weakness
- Kicks in instantly when vaped and its effects last for around 30 minutes
- Can cause poisoning in high doses, which can be lethal
- Is highly addictive
Just like other drugs, nicotine is responsible for the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. A hit of the vape stimulates dopamine, and this teaches the brain to repeat the behaviour. This behaviour is quickly reinforced despite the very mild effects (unlike other drugs which produce an exhilarating high) which demonstrates just how addictive nicotine and vaping can be.
Of adolescents aged 11-17 years old, 16% tried vaping in 2022, compared to 11% in 2021. A mother shared her experience with The Guardian after her 13-year-old son became addicted to vaping, describing him as “beside himself with cravings” and unable to enjoy former hobbies.
Vaping and your health: what you need to know
The US has experienced an outbreak of vaping-related injuries and deaths, with 2,807 cases of e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury (EVALI) and 68 deaths also confirmed. This has been linked to the ingredient vitamin E acetate, as well as other illegal products contained in the vaping liquid.
When vaping is used to quit smoking, research shows that individuals are more likely to continue vaping for longer periods of time when compared to other nicotine replacement therapies, including nicotine patches. E-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, emerging onto the market only a decade ago, and so more research needs to be done on the long-term safety of vaping and the effects of vaping addiction.
BBC News also reported on seizures of over one million vapes at Heathrow airport alone. These vapes do not meet UK regulation standards, with many of them being poorly manufactured and containing unknown chemicals. Using one of these illegal vapes could have devastating consequences, especially for those who are addicted to vapes or use them more frequently.
Who is responsible for the rise in vaping addiction?
The percentage of children who regularly vape has more than doubled in the past three years, with teachers complaining of addicted students becoming “antsy” as they wait for their next vape hit. There are fears that exposure to addictive behaviours at such a young age could lead to the abuse of dangerous, illicit drugs down the line. But are clever marketing tactics to blame for this ever-increasing epidemic?
Recent reports found that a Chinese-owned company is pushing vape products on TikTok, using influencers to promote colourful disposable vape pens costing as little as £3.49. With flavours including “blueberry sour raspberry” and “strawberry ice cream”, the draw for younger children is very apparent.
It is not just the younger generation that falls victim to vape marketing tactics, however, as the sweet-tasting flavours and promises of a “safe” alternative to smoking can attract just about anyone. If you are struggling with a vaping addiction, however, it can feel like an invisible weight on your shoulders.
Are you misusing vapes?
E-cigarettes have been deemed 95% less harmful than smoking, and are recommended only as a tool for smokers to quit. This is because vaping products do not contain the same level of toxins as normal cigarettes, such as tar and carbon monoxide. Smokers can therefore drastically reduce their risk of developing cancer, lung disease, heart disease and strokes by switching to vaping.
Despite this, vaping is not recommended for non-smokers. It is important to remember that being “less harmful” does not mean it comes risk-free.
Are you using vapes outside of the ways in which they are recommended? If so, you are putting yourself at risk of developing a vaping addiction. Don’t let vaping take charge over your life. Remember that professional help is always available if you need help quitting.