Last week, the US government issued a statement that it’s time to stop vaping because of the health risks associated with it. This warning stems from the recent outbreak of illnesses around the country related to vaping. So far,there have been over 450 people diagnosed with vaping-related lung issues and 6 deaths, leading the government to seek a ban on all flavored e-cigarette products to help curb illness and keep adolescents from vaping.
While all of this sounds pretty damning for the e-cigarette industry, just doing a quick Google or Twitter search will show you that people are confused about what is actually happening and if they should be worried. The confusion is pretty understandable … until just a few weeks ago, e-cigarettes were considered a healthier alternative to smoking and many people were under the impression that there was very little downside to vaping. Then, what started as a trickle of complaints about lung issues turned into Niagara Falls, and now we are supposed to hand back our vapes all together? What gives here?
On CMC’s podcast, The Beyond Addiction Show, Dr. David Fagan talked about e-cigarettes and all the issues that come along with it. He described how adolescents are taking up vaping in droves, and how the long-term impact of vaping is really unknown. After the more recent news came out, he joined the show again to discuss the new developments.
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Dr. Fagan clearly points out that we don’t know what is causing this spate of illness, and to pin it on one thing, like Vitamin E or flavored cartridges, is not accurate. The reality is that we don’t know exactly what is causing the issue(s) and there are probably several factors at play. So, that leads us to one conclusion … it is time for you to quit nicotine all together.
Many people reading this would argue that you shouldn’t try and quit too many things at the same time. The old adage is, “quit what is killing you,” and alcohol or other drugs are seen as a greater threat than cigarettes (electronic or not). In addition to the fact that cigarettes, and now possibly e-cigarettes, are the largest preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for over 480,000 deaths per year, we know from research that quitting smoking while stopping other behaviors like drinking is actually easier than trying to stop at another time.
How to Quit
I wish there was some simple way to quit smoking, but like every other behavior change, stopping smoking or use of any nicotine products is hard and takes a lot of planning and use of skills. The good news is that stopping smoking is literally no different than changing any other behavior! You don’t need to do anything different or special for cigarettes or nicotine! And, there are a LOT of resources available to help you.
Two such places are the Center for Disease Control’s quit smoking page and smokefree.gov, both of which get you to a lot of government supplied resources for how to quit smoking. Your state also provides free materials, often including free nicotine replacement, which can be very effective. Utilizing these free resources is an excellent way to help you get a jump on making this change.
You can also go down to your local drug store/pharmacy and ask them about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). When it comes to NRT, the easiest to use is the patch, which transmits nicotine directly into your bloodstream through your skin, and gives you a constant and steady flow of nicotine throughout the day. This should keep any nicotine cravings at bay, and then you can focus your energy on breaking the psychological and habitual nature of cigarette smoking (the instinctual move to grab a cigarette when you get in the car, for example). The patch is easier to use than other NRTs (like gum or lozenges) because there are fewer restrictions and having a steady stream of nicotine means that your cravings will be taken care of without you needing to do something extra.
You can also use skills like distracting yourself when you’re feeling triggered, plan ahead for how you want to handle situations you know will be difficult for you (like when you get in that car!), and reinforce/reward yourself when you hit milestones, like not smoking for a week/month. Also, prepare yourself to be willing to step into some difficult situations. Some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are increased irritability, disturbed sleep, and headaches, to name a few. Quitting smoking can bring on all of those. At the same time, there are a LOT of benefits that you get starting as shortly as 20 minutes after your last cigarette! So, you’re enduring that pain and frustration to get many, many benefits.
Quitting smoking or vaping won’t be easy, changing behaviors around substances rarely is. And yet, the benefits are many, and it may actually be the difference between life and death. As Dr. Fagan put it, cigarettes are the only product that, when used as directed, will result in death. That seems like a pretty raw deal, and one that we can avoid. It’s time to start avoiding it.