Vaping Linked to Major Depression Among American Youth: Study

Researchers found that teens and young adults experience similar patterns seen among adults, in that those facing disability or major depression are at an increased risk of vaping addiction.

Amid continuing concerns about the teen vaping epidemic in the United States, the findings of a new study suggests that young individuals with disabilities and depression are more likely to develop a vaping addiction than their peers.

U.S. researchers warn that fighting nicotine addiction among U.S. youths will likely require messages better tailored to warn them about the health risks of vaping from the government, school nurses, counselors and mental health professionals. The findings were published online on January 30 in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Similar findings have been reported in other recent studies, indicating vaping nicotine is more common among adults with disabilities compared to those without, but less is known about vaping habits among teens and young adults with disabilities.

In this new study, researchers from Duke University, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and George Mason University used data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health which included information from nearly 25,000 adolescents and young adults (AYA). They used that data to estimate the national prevalence of nicotine vaping by disability type and major depressive episodes.

The study examined the use of vaping among different types of disabilities, including disabilities of communication, hearing, mobility, and cognitive disabilities.

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Vaping Use Among Teens with Disabilities

According to the findings, roughly 14% of teens and young adults with disabilities used nicotine e-cigarettes in the past month, compared to 10% of teens and young adults without disabilities.

Overall, 14% of teens with any disability used nicotine vapes, and 14% of teens and young adults with cognitive disabilities used vapes in the past month. Depression is one type of cognitive disability; others include autism spectrum disorder, brain injury, dyslexia, and language delays.

This is the first study to focus on the link between disability, depression, and risk of vaping among teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 years old. The data found similar patterns among teens as other studies found among adults.

Researchers said one reason this may be the case is adults with cognitive disabilities also tend to suffer from severe depression and anxiety more frequently. This pattern is often the same among teens with cognitive disabilities.

Teen Vaping Epidemic

The vaping epidemic among teens has worsened in recent years, largely as a result of high nicotine delivery rates from devices like JUUL. From 2017 to 2018, there was an increase in e-cigarette use among high school students. Use among high school teens increased from 12% to 21% during that time and from 5% to 8% among young adults.

However, vaping use rates finally began dropping in 2023, from 14% in 2022 to 10% in 2023 among middle and high school students. But overall, nearly 3 million teens are still using any type of tobacco product.

Research indicates e-cigarettes carry many health risks and may be just as bad for blood flow and lead to cardiovascular disease as traditional tobacco cigarettes. In addition, it is believed that vaping causes damage to human DNA and has been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer.

“The higher prevalence of nicotine vaping among AYAs with disabilities suggests that tailored messages may be needed to communicate health risks and adverse outcomes of e-cigarette use,” the researchers concluded. “This information can be helpful to school nurses, counselors, and mental health professionals in their screening of major depression as a risk factor for e-cigarette use.”

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