I quit vaping. Well, I quit, and then I picked it up again. Sue me.
It’s hard out here. Every flat party you go to, it seems like everyone is vaping. Device in hand, people are puffing happily away at the beer pong table, or outside with a bevvy. In fact, I’m vaping right now.
* First names only used to protect privacy
As a young person, trying to quit smoking or vaping can be doubly hard. There are uni pressures, the world is caving in, and maybe you had to live with your parents over summer—like I did. All that stress and ‘yes Mum, I did the dishes!’ can really get to a person.
Many students tried to quit over the summer, but not all did so successfully.
Jackson and Selena, a couple at university, tried to “start the valley” of quitting—going down in nicotine strength to reach a point they could quit. But it didn’t quite work out like that for them.
“It was just like a crushing headache,” said Jackson, “I was itchy, and super irritable.” Both Jackson and Selena tried to go down in strength from 20 to 15 mg of nicotine, a seemingly small step, but both ended up going back up.
“Having to hide it from people really sucked,” said Selena. Both of them noted that it was hard to be dependent on a substance, full stop. “I’m in a student area where it’s kind of accepted, but when we went camping with Jackson’s parents it felt like we were hiding something.”
“There’s a big social stigma around it,” said Selena.
Therein lies the tricky part. All three interviewees said they’d like to quit, at some stage. Hell, I’d like to quit too. But it’s not as easy as asking someone to quit, and expecting them to be able to immediately.
For Caitlin, another university student, trying to quit was motivated by the financial and physical effects of vaping. “I was buying two packs of pods a week, which was 40 bucks… Generally more than I’d spend on groceries a week.”
Both her parents also smoked, and she saw the health effects of smoking and vaping first hand. “I was getting winded quite easily,” she said, “and it was killing my appetite. I would sometimes forget to eat for three days. I had no energy to do things, and I was sluggish and in a bad mood all the time.”
Nicotine is as addictive as heroin, in addition to being an appetite suppressant. Caitlin says she tried to seriously quit three times. At the moment, though, she’s still vaping.
The first time Caitlin tried to quit, she picked it back up while doing an assignment for university. “I had already sat there for three hours and was not making headway with [the assignment], I could not focus, I could not concentrate, I felt like I was bouncing off the walls.”
Trying to quit often manifests itself in one’s mental health as well. Over summer, I tried to quit vaping while working at an apple orchard. My anxiety came back with a vengeance. At the backpackers, I would go into the kitchen and become promptly overwhelmed by the amount of activity going on. Trying to cook while having recurring intrusive thoughts was a strange experience, let me tell you.
I managed to push past this anxiety by going on runs, but then I started over-exercising and ended up injuring myself. Without another coping mechanism, it was a hard time for my mental health, even though I was in a relaxing environment.
For Caitlin, the mental health effects of quitting manifested in “low grade depression episodes,” which she didn’t notice until she picked up vaping again due to her assignment. “It was like I have serotonin now. That sense of ‘oh, I can be happy and motivated’ kept me vaping.”
Of course, inhaling anything into your lungs is going to be bad for you in the long-term. And many of us have seen that with our parent’s generation. Vaping has been shown to be less hazardous in terms of second-hand smoke, but a lot of the long-term effects are still up in the air. We are the guinea pig generation, so to speak.
So, how are we supposed to support someone going through the effects of nicotine withdrawal? It’s easy to slip into a tough love approach. But telling someone to just stop and berating them when they don’t can be more harmful than helpful.
“[When] I was treated compassionately, it felt like I would be capable of actually quitting,” said Caitlin. “I think I will keep going through these periods of quitting and laxing back into it until the quit attempt actually sticks.”
And for a lot of people, that’s what quitting looks like. It’s recurring, and a process. For Selena, being met with judgement actually made her less likely to quit. To those who take this approach, she said “lowkey fuck you, because it’s a chemical dependence. It’s hard.”
Quitting vaping and smoking is a process that needs to be self-led, said our interviewees. “Being met with compassion, support and verbal acknowledgement and praise. You’re doing a good thing,” said Caitlin. “Other people [need] to see and recognise that as well.”
If someone you know is trying to quit, let them know that you’re there to support them, and ask them what that should look like. “That kind of support will look different for everyone,” said Caitlin. “Having that conversation makes it clear you’re there for that person. You want to support them, and you recognise they know what kind of support they need more than you do.”
To those who are trying to quit, Caitlin recommends “focusing… on what I was gaining. I’m not winded walking up the hill anymore, I have energy to do the exercises that I enjoy. I could enjoy food again because I could actually taste it. Focusing on the positive aspects helped me stick with the quit attempt as long as I did.”
Finally, Jackson and Selena suggested to never go up in nicotine strength. “A week later, you’ll be dependent on it and it’ll be two times harder to quit,” said Selena.
Quitting smoking and vaping is not an easy journey, and having the stigma of smoking or vaping surrounding you often makes it harder. Many young people think they will quit when they finish uni, but the reality is that nicotine dependence will never be an easy habit to kick. Having those around you who understand that, is vital to the process.
So, maybe I’ll quit sometime in the future, or maybe I won’t. If you see me vaping on my walk to class, or sitting outside by Albert Park remember: MYOB.
But also come say hi.
If you are attempting to quit smoking or vaping, call QUITLINE for support on 0800 778 778