Health Department: Nicotine dependence intensifies among Minnesota teens who vape

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

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Minnesota students who use e-cigarettes, also called vaping, are finding themselves increasingly trapped in nicotine dependence, according to new data from the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey. About 7 in 10 students who vape want to quit, and nearly two-thirds have tried to quit with some trying to quit 10 or more times.

Nicotine dependence has implications for youth mental health. Youth and young adults can show signs of nicotine dependence quickly. Increasing dependence on nicotine leads to stronger withdrawal symptoms, which cause mood fluctuations and negative mood and can amplify or exacerbate stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression.

“It’s a dire situation that so many of our teens are struggling with the health harms of nicotine dependence,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham said. “Many teens may smoke or vape because they think it helps them relieve stress or anxiety, but the nicotine can actually worsen those feelings. We want teens to know that we understand the mental health challenges they may be facing and how hard it is to quit, and that free help is out there to support them.”

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Up until about age 25, nicotine can negatively affect learning, attention and memory. It also increases risk for addiction to other substances.

Nearly all Minnesota teens who use e-cigarettes report suffering dependence on the devices, which can provide high levels of nicotine.

Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey data shows 79.6% of students who vape reported having experienced one or more signs of dependence, such as intolerable cravings and reaching for their e-cigarette without thinking about it.
Among students who vaped in the past 30 days, 49.5% vaped on at least 20 of the past 30 days, a 47% increase in frequent vaping since 2020 and a 165% increase since 2017.

“It’s no surprise that youth continue to get hooked,” said Elyse Levine Less, executive director of the Tobacco Free Alliance. “The tobacco industry’s well-calculated strategy of enticing flavors they’ve engineered draws teens into vaping, while the addictive nicotine content ensures their continued dependence.”

Flavored commercial tobacco products appeal to Minnesota teens. A large majority of teens (76.3%) reported their first tobacco product was flavored with menthol or another flavor. In 2023, 93.3% of students who vape used a flavored vape in the past 30 days.

“These products come in over 15,000 flavors, and they’re loaded with toxic nicotine,” said Less. “The nicotine content in these devices is egregious and important for people to be aware of – a single vape device might contain the nicotine content equivalent of 26 packs of cigarettes.”

The Minnesota Department of Health supports teens in their efforts to quit commercial tobacco, including vaping. Quitting commercial tobacco can help lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improve daily mood. For Minnesota teens ages 13-17, there’s free and confidential help. My Life, My Quit is a program to support teens in quitting commercial tobacco use, including vaping. Teens can text “Start My Quit” to 36072 or visit My Life, My Quit online to chat with a quit coach, engage in coaching calls or online chat and receive youth-specific materials.

Minnesota teens can also find more information on the dangers of vaping at Room to Breathe. Room to Breathe is a new online space where teens can learn more about how vaping impacts mental health, how the industry markets to youth and ways to get involved or find help quitting.

After the implementation of public health measures and vaping restrictions, data shows youth vaping has started to decline in Minnesota. In 2023, 13.9% or about 1 in 7 high school students reported having vaped in the past 30 days, a significant decline from 19.3% in 2020. Many cities and counties have enacted policies to protect youth in their community. About 1 in 4 Minnesotans are now covered by a local ordinance that restricts or prohibits the sale of flavored commercial tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Minnesota youth have also taken action to help education and protect their peers. Winners were recently announced for the 2024 Escape the Vape Video Challenge – a public service announcement video contest for Minnesota’s middle and high school students. Minnesota students acted through the contest, submitting 232 entries on a range of vaping-related topics, many encouraging their peers to seek help quitting or to avoid starting altogether.

“We’re glad to see that youth e-cigarette use rates are declining and that public health efforts are working,” said Cunningham. “However, it’s imperative we engage youth, parents, schools, local public health and community partners in our efforts to help youth quit and to prevent a new generation from starting.”