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Why Do Some Teens and Young Adults Vape?

Key points:

  • Teens and young adults vape for various reasons, and their motivations can be complex.

  • It’s important to understand what triggers youth to vape, so we can help prevent it.


Reasons for Vaping

An outline of a teens head who is smoking.

It’s no secret that youth vaping remains an issue in the U.S., with more than 2.1 million high school and middle school students currently using e-cigarettes, according to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) results. But what remains an enigma is why teens and young adults vape in the first place, despite its well-known negative impact on health and well-being.

A review of the literature reveals many contributors, including (but not limited to):

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): Traumatic childhood events, like physical or verbal abuse or neglect, can affect physical and mental health. One study found that youth with one to three ACEs were likelier to use e-cigarettes.

  • Mental health: Some teens and young adults may vape to cope with depression, stress, or anxiety. Preliminary findings of a study of 2,500 individuals ages 13 to 24 by the American Heart Association found that more than half of vapers (nicotine, vape, or both) reported experiencing symptoms of depression compared to 25 percent of non-vapers. Symptoms included difficulty being engaged or interested in activities typically enjoyed. Regarding anxiety and stress, the American Heart Association found that approximately 60 to 70 percent of vapers reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, like worrying, panic attacks, flashbacks, and situational anxieties, compared to 40% of participants that never vaped.

  • Personality traits: Extraversion is a broad personality trait encompassing many characteristics, such as outgoingness, sociability, and impulsivity. Extroverts have a greater desire for stimulation and immediate gratification. They may be more accepting of the health risks of e-cigarette use, perceiving them as less harmful.

  • Peer pressure: E-cigarette use in young adults can not only spark pleasure but also foster social acceptance. Vaping may be popular among some peer groups and some youth may partake for fear of being left out.

  • Access: Studies have found that the ease of vaping and the ability to often conceal in public places is a strong motivator for e-cigarette use.

  • Alcohol: Consumption of alcohol, particularly binge drinking, is strongly linked to e-cigarette use.

  • Appetite and weight management: Some resort to e-cigarettes to decrease appetite. Some studies show weight control and appetite loss as motivations for vaping in adolescents and young adults.

  • Cannabis use: E-cigarette users who frequently use marijuana tended to have greater consumption of e-cigarette and higher levels of e-cigarette dependence. Frequent marijuana users reported higher percent of time involving simultaneous use of e-cigarettes and marijuana, higher concentration of nicotine, shorter duration from waking-up to first puff, and lower percent of time using e-cigarettes alone. In other research, the occurrence of tobacco and cannabis co-use within the same day was examined. Participants reported vaping e-cigarettes on the days they vaped cannabis, indicating the same means of use may play a role in encouraging same day co-use. It was also found that participants reported vaping e-cigarettes more on the days when they vaped cannabis. Dual use is concerning as it may either augment the addictive nature of vaping or entice people who are more prone to addiction.

Students chatting in a circle at school.

The Bottom-line If you or someone you love vapes, identifying the reason(s) why is the first step in helping establish strategies for reducing or stopping vaping in its tracks. By Linda Antinoro Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc References

  1. Romm KF, Cohn AM, Wang Y, Berg CJ. Psychosocial predictors of trajectories of dual cigarette and e-cigarette use among young adults in the US. Addict Behav. 2023 Jun;141:107658. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2023.107658. Epub 2023 Feb 11. PMID: 36812780.

  2. Rachel A. Wattick, I. Mark Olfert & Melissa D. Olfert (2021) Psychosocial Factors Associated with E-Cigarette Use among Young Adults in a 4-Year University in Appalachia, Substance Use & Misuse, 56:8, 1182-1189, DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2021.1914102

  3. Scientific Conferences and Meetings (February 28, 2023). Depression & anxiety symptoms linked to vaping nicotine and THC in teens and young adults.

  4. Wong, S. W., Lin, H. C., Piper, M. E., Siddiqui, A., & Buu, A. (2019). Measuring characteristics of e-cigarette consumption among college students. Journal of American College Health : J of ACH, 67(4),338–347.

  5. Morean, M. E., Bold, K. W., Kong, G., Camenga, D. R., Simon, P., Jackson, A., Cavallo, D. A., & Krishnan-Sarin, S. (2020). High school students’ use of flavored e-cigarette e-liquids for appetite control and weight loss. Addictive Behaviors, 102, 106139

  6. Buu A, Yang JJ, Ou TS, Kyung Nam J, Suh G, Lin HC. An ecological momentary assessment study to examine covariates and effects of concurrent and simultaneous use of electronic cigarettes and marijuana among college students. Addict Behav. 2023 Jun;141:107662. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2023.107662. Epub 2023.

  7. Nguyen N, Thrul J, Neilands TB, Ling PM. Associations Between Product Type and Intensity of Tobacco and Cannabis Co-use on the Same Day Among Young Adult Smokers: Smartphone-Based Daily-Diary Study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2023 Feb 20;11:e40736. doi: 10.2196/40736. PMID: 36806440; PMCID: PMC9989918.


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