E-Cigarette Use and Mental Health

woman smoking e-cigaretteQuitting 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

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.

References:

  1. 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
  2. DeAngelis, T. (2014, March). Are e-cigarettes a game changer? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/03/e-cigarettes.aspx
  3. E-cigarettes and mental health. (2014, May 13). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-05/uoc–eam050914.php
  4. 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/
  5. 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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  • charlotte

    charlotte

    May 22nd, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    The thing that I find to be so confusing is that there are many advocates for things like the e cigarettes or chewing gum, but don’t they see that they are then encouraging an addict to trade one vice for another? It is like those who do stop smoking and then start overeating. Or they trade online shopping for porn. I don’t know. These things are used as pacifiers, something to get you to stop thinking about one thing but then there is a chance that you will pick up something else that can just as harmful to your well being. If oyu can’t go it alone and leave them all alone then maybe the thing to do is to try therapy instead of trying to replace one bad habit with another.

  • Mark Noo

    Mark Noo

    May 22nd, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    I was taught that nicotine acted as a mild mood stabilizer, mild stimulant, and mild appetite supressant.

    Why wouldn’t a mentally ill person use it. Especially if the effects of tar coating the lungs, cancer, and all the bad outcomes are removed.

    I don’t know if it is true that all the harm has been removed but I can certainly understand why people suffering from mental illness would want a mood stabilizer.

  • Celia

    Celia

    May 23rd, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Mark- I see what you are getting at, but I think that there are other ways that they should seek out the stabilization besides having to still rely on the cigarette to do that for them.

  • Hayden

    Hayden

    May 24th, 2014 at 6:27 AM

    This is a pretty big stretch don’t you think? I mean all of us are vulnerable to our addictions, and someone with other issues may simply need more of a crutch to help them through than say someone who is a little stronger mental health wise.

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    July 28th, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    I think we need to have more statistics and more studies on the matter before we can determine how harmful e-cigs really are.

  • Steve J.

    Steve J.

    June 8th, 2015 at 11:36 PM

    “Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult, and some smokers turn to e-cigarette in an effort to ease the transition.” YES! Because we can’t find more effective alternative for smoking!

  • Hasse K

    Hasse K

    April 8th, 2016 at 6:07 AM

    Quit smoking is naturally very difficult and some smoker is quitting the smoking, but they are turning in e-cigarettes. The e-cigarettes are also causing mental problems because e-cigarette is also a part of a smoking product.

  • Chris D. H.

    Chris D. H.

    February 14th, 2017 at 4:35 AM

    Very impressive and helpful article, thank you

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