New research suggests vaping could be as dangerous as smoking: here's how to quit for good

a person using a vape
How to quit vaping - for good, this timewhitebalance.oatt - Getty Images

If you’ve been to a pub, bar or club in the last few months, you’ve likely seen it (or at the very least, smelt it) – the large plume of white smoke, sickly sweet and highly scented, erupting from the lips of a vape obsessive.

Even a cursory glance on TikTok will show you teens (or in some worrying cases, tweens), displaying the sheer volume of Lost Marys or Elf bars they’ve puffed their way through.

Vaping is the smoking du jour for Gen Z and statistics show the rapidly rising popularity of disposable vapes, with research revealing the number of e-cigarette users is only increasing.It's thought 4.3 million people in Great Britain vape, and the use of disposable vapes are on the rise amongst young people. More than half (52.8%) of e-cigarette users aged 18-24-year used disposables as their main type in 2022, a huge jump from only 2.8% in 2021.

While vaping was initially thought to be better for your health than smoking tobacco, worrying new research from University College London found people who vape suffer similar changes to their DNA as smokers who develop cancer.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Cancer Research, said the findings did not prove e-cigarettes cause cancer but show that “the devices might not be as harmless as originally thought”.

A report by Cosmopolitan UK also found how some vapes may contain poison and other illicit materials.

If you’re finding yourself addicted to vaping, but struggling to cut back on the Elf bars, we’ve got you covered. Cosmopolitan UK spoke to a number of experts to see the best ways on how to quit vaping, and to ensure see your Lost Mary habits stays lost…

What does vaping do to our bodies?

First, let’s take a deep five into what vaping actually does to us. Vapes and e-cigarettes have previously been prescribed as tools to help tobacco smokers cut down and actually quit. However, vapes are widely available without a prescription, and can be picked up in newsagents and convenience stores.

Typically, e-cigarettes heat a liquid that becomes a vapour people can breathe in. They usually contain nicotine. They don’t, however, contain tobacco – which is linked to increased rates of developing cancer.

However, that’s not to say vaping is entirely risk-free. As well as the new research which shows vapers experience changes to their DNA akin to smokers that develop cancer, vaping can also cause throat and mouth irritation, headaches, cough and nausea.

woman vaping on the street
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There’s likely far more serious impacts on our bodies too, but as vaping is a relatively new technology, there’s not a tonne of long-term studies researching the impact e-cigarettes have on our health... yet. It’s partly the reason why we’re seeing governments across the world try and ban or limit access to e-cigarettes, especially amongst children, with worrying rises in their popularity.

How do we become addicted to vaping?

Vapes and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. That said, the psychological addiction to vapes should also be considered, explains Helen Wells, Clinical Director and Psychotherapist at The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab. Effectively, when you vape, your brain releases the ‘happiness’ neurochemical dopamine, causing you to associate vaping with positive feelings.

“Withdrawal symptoms can often emerge due to the absence of the dopamine release associated with vaping and the psychological dependence on the habit itself,” Wells tells Cosmopolitan UK.

How long does it take to quit an addiction to vaping?

Sadly, there’s no hard and fast rule for people eschewing the e-cigarettes.

“Overcoming an addiction to vaping is similar to quitting smoking and nicotine withdrawal symptoms typically last for a month, give or take - depending on how long you have been vaping and your daily nicotine intake,” Wells explains.

Can you quit vaping cold turkey?

You can – but that’s not to say it’s easy. It’s the first week which is always the hardest, as this will be the first few days where you see the nicotine start to deplete from your body – and where you might find yourself reaching for your Elf bar again.

“During this period cravings may lessen but the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms kick in, including headaches, stomach cramps, insomnia and anxiety,” Wells says.

a group of different coloured elf bars
Irina Kashparenko - Getty Images

“If you are planning to quit, the key is knowing what to expect in terms of withdrawal symptoms and having a plan to cope with them. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are no less intense than many illicit drugs, they affect you physically, mentally and emotionally.”

What are the side effects to quitting vaping?

Well, they’re not pretty – and they can be difficult to cope with, Wells explains.

“Acute nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be psychological and physical but gradually decrease during the following three to four weeks,” she explains.

Vaping withdrawal symptoms to look out for include:

  • Intense cravings

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Increased appetite

  • Constipation, stomachaches

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty thinking clearly or focusing

  • Irritability

  • Tremors

  • Low mood or sadness

What is the best way to quit vaping for good?

With vaping being highly addictive and withdrawal symptoms often being unpleasant, it takes a lot of willpower to bin the vapes altogether. However, to give yourself the best chance of quitting, Wells explains the most important thing we need to do is try and mitigate any withdrawal symptoms.

“Having a plan in place for how to manage your cravings, is the first step. They should include avoiding triggers, and thinking ahead of time about reactive measures you can take, like reaching for a stick of gum, grabbing a fidget spinner, taking a quick walk, or a mindfulness meditation.”

woman vaping an electronic cigarette
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Wells continues on to explain that it’s important to stay hydrated and well nourished when fighting the urge to vape: “A healthy diet complemented by proper hydration is essential in creating a foundation where recovery from addiction can thrive. Finger foods like raw carrots or almonds can also help engage your hands, which is often helpful in quitting vaping.”

And a good night’s sleep will also do those withdrawing the world of good. “Fatigue and grogginess are common symptoms of withdrawal,” Wells adds. “Getting more rest can help your body heal and stabilise your moods

There are other simple changes you can make; perhaps addressing why you feel the need to reach for a vape at every opportunity will aid you in your journey towards quitting, explains Katie Tryon, Director of Health Strategy at Vitality Health.

“Whether it’s boredom, stress, socialising, or even just the taste – once you’ve identified the main reason behind why you vape, the better you will be able to develop strategies to manage these feelings,” she tells Cosmopolitan UK.

“It’s also vital you set a realistic quit date based on circumstances, and make sure you commit to it. It’s important to focus on your motivation to quit, and perhaps try listing your reasons to quit, ensuring that you stick to them. It might also help to tell people that you are quitting, so that you can be held accountable for it. Try and avoid any environment you associate with vaping.”

Yep, quitting vaping will be hard - but it will really pay dividends in the future, for your bank balance and your body.

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