Addicted to Vaped Nicotine, Teenagers Have No Clear Path to Quitting


“They were all for adults!” she said.

Jonathan Hirsch, a social studies teacher who oversees tobacco and vaping education at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif., where 36 percent of 11th graders say they vape, said that even students who want to quit struggle mightily to do so. They will purposely not take their Juuls to school, only to relent at lunchtime and rush home for a hit.

Mr. Hirsch said that although instilling a fear of disease can be a successful tool to prevent cigarette smoking, using fear to intercede with students already vaping does not work. Faced with losing their devices — their nicotine — they become furtive or lash out. One parent took away his son’s vape, Mr. Hirsch said, and the boy got so worked up that he punched a tree and broke his hand.

Nor do habitual vapers stop because of the threat of consequences. “When I asked my students the other day if they know someone who routinely leaves the class to vape because they ‘have to,’ at least two-thirds raised their hands,” Mr. Hirsch said.

The perception that everyone vapes points to the biggest obstacle in persuading teenagers to quit: the pugnacious, peer-glued nature of adolescence itself. It’s stylish. Forbidden.

In addition, while making that first step in recovery — owning the addiction — is difficult for any addicted person, it’s arguably harder for teenagers, who are loathe to admit dependence on anyone or anything.

“It’s not often that you find a 16-year-old who says, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m addicted to vapes, can you take me to therapy?’” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a Stanford professor and developmental psychologist who researches adolescent behavior around tobacco products. “Young people don’t do that. And how many even know they’re addicted?”

With little guidance, doctors are formulating individual approaches. Dr. Tanski, an associate pediatrics professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, begins her assessments indirectly. She’ll ask, “Are your friends vaping?”



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