Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult, and some smokers turn to e-cigarettes in an effort to ease the transition. An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device through which a user can puff on water vapor instead of smoke, while still getting a nicotine fix. E-cigarette advocates argue that these devices are safer than traditional cigarettes, but a variety of public health organizations have expressed concern about the devices’ increasing popularity. A new study offers another piece of evidence that e-cigarettes might not be all they’re cracked up to be, emphasizing that mental health challenges are common among e-cigarette users.
The study polled more than 10,000 Americans about their use of tobacco and related products. Current and former smokers with mental health issues were more than twice as likely as current or former smokers without mental health concerns to try electronic cigarettes. Overall, almost 15% of current or former smokers with mental health conditions had tried e-cigarettes, compared to 6.6% of current or former smokers without mental health concerns.
Among people who currently smoke or have an addiction to nicotine, the numbers were even higher. Among smokers without mental health conditions, 45.3% had tried e-cigarettes, compared to 60.5% of smokers with mental health challenges. The researchers also found that smokers with mental health conditions were more likely than other smokers to have tried medication to quit smoking.
The researchers speculate that these results suggest that people with mental health conditions may be more vulnerable to e-cigarette marketing tactics.
E-Cigarettes and Mental Health Issues
Researchers did not compare rates of mental health conditions among e-cigarette users to the general population, so the study doesn’t show that e-cigarettes cause mental health conditions. Instead, the research indicates that people with mental health conditions are more likely to try a variety of methods to quit smoking, including e-cigarettes. These attempts may fail, though. One recent study that looked at 84 other studies found that e-cigarettes don’t help smokers kick the habit.
Smoking itself is correlated with a higher rate of mental health challenges, and theories abound about why this is. Estimates of mental health challenges among smokers range from 20% to almost 50%—much higher than in the general population. Smoking may be a way of self-medicating, and people with mental health challenges may struggle more with the stress of quitting.
Nicotine itself is a powerful drug that could more strongly affect people with mental health challenges. Smokers who already struggle with mental health issues may be more inclined to use quit-smoking measures such as e-cigarettes because they’re afraid of the consequences of quitting, but these smokers should know that such a strategy is unlikely to work.
- Cummins, S. E., Zu, S., Tedeschi, G. J., Gamst, A. C., & Meyers, M. G. (2014). Use of e-cigarettes by individuals with mental health conditions. Tobacco Control. Retrieved from http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2014/05/12/tobaccocontrol-2013-051511.full?g=widget_default
- DeAngelis, T. (2014, March). Are e-cigarettes a game changer? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/03/e-cigarettes.aspx
- E-cigarettes and mental health. (2014, May 13). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-05/uoc–eam050914.php
- Schaub, J. (2014, May 13). E-Cigarettes don’t actually help people quit, according to 84 different studies. Retrieved from http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/05/13/ucsf-e-cigarette-study-shows-devices-questionable-benefits/
- Smoking and mental illness. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Hearts_and_Minds/Smoking_Cessation/Smoking_and_Mental_Illness.htm
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