5 Reasons E-Cigarettes & Vaping Lead to Drug Use

Last updated: Friday, 15, July 2022 at 11:16 PM

Key Points

  • Young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke tobacco and use illicit substances.
  • There are misconceptions about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Young people believe them to be safer than tobacco cigarettes.
  • Unfortunately, illicit drug use is increasing among people aged 12 and older. In addition, the percentage of people who vaped nicotine is highest among young adults aged 18 to 25.

Addicted.org is not pointing to vaping as the sole cause of illicit drug use among young adults. Yet, significant evidence suggests it strongly contributes to a devastating problem. Here are the 5 big reasons why e-cigarettes are associated with illicit drug use.

Vaping is More Addictive than Traditional Cigarettes

The misconception is they are less addictive. However, one study used the Fagerström test for nicotine dependence (FTND) and its adapted version for e-cigarettes.

The test was used to analyze nicotine dependence in two groups of highly educated young adults—e-cigarette users and cigarette users. The nicotine dependence levels measured with FTND were over two times higher among e-cigarette users compared to traditional tobacco smokers.

The Facts:

  • In 2020 10.4 million people aged 12 or older used an e-cigarette or vaping device to vape nicotine in the past month.
  • E-cigarettes vary in their nicotine content.
  • Nicotine addiction begins for many with the use of e-cigarettes.

A study examined the relationship between e-cigarettes and subsequent use of marijuana. The researchers found that “odds of marijuana use were higher in youth who had an e-cigarette use history in comparison to those who did not.”

This leads to Reason #2

Vaping of Illicit Drugs Is Not New

There is a link between e-cigarettes and numerous drugs that people with a substance use disorder commonly abuse. Many experts believe they are predisposed to the use of other drugs because of particular needs being met. Unfortunately, the problem is often overlooked as just smoking because of product availability and ease of access.

Some of the most commonly vaped illicit drugs include:

  • Cannabis
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opioids

E-cigarette use has been closely linked with the use of combustible cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens, ecstasy, and misuse of over-the-counter and prescription medications.

An article published in the American Journal of Addictions stated, “e-cigarette users reported a higher prevalence of substance use relative to those who did not use e-cigarettes. The taste of e-cigarettes was identified as an important motive for use”.

Overall, the increased availability and affordability of commercially manufactured e-cigarette devices has caused it to become a more common smoking method.

The Progression from Adolescence to Young Adulthood

Statistically, adolescents aged 12 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 25 are less likely to perceive great risk from most illicit drug use.

One factor influencing whether people will use tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs is the extent to which they believe using these substances might cause harm.

Progressing to young adulthood, a study examining the association between illicit drug use and e-cigarettes among university students discovered the following:

  • E-cigarettes were associated with the use of multiple other drugs.
  • Those who used e-cigarettes were significantly more likely to have mental health issues.
  • The use of e-cigarettes is common in university students. It appears to be associated with various mental health and drug use problems.

Any addictive behavior started at a young age, such as adolescence, progresses into a more severe problem later in life. Traditionally, these issues occur more frequently within a university if the individual has a history of addiction prior.

The Association Between E-Cigarettes and Marijuana Use

The emergence of e-cigarettes has given cannabis smokers a new method of inhaling cannabinoids. The most significant health concern involves the vaping of cannabinoids by children and teenagers.

One study asking the question, is electronic cigarette use associated with marijuana use in adolescents and young adults, found the following:

  • The odds of past or current marijuana use among youth who used e-cigarettes were 3.5 times higher than for those who denied e-cigarette use.
  • Studies conducted in adolescents aged 12 to 17 years (vs. young adults aged 18 to 24 years) showed a stronger association between e-cigarettes and marijuana use.

Vaping devices are popular among teens and are now the most commonly used form of nicotine among youth in the United States.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some studies have suggested that vaping nicotine might actually encourage cigarette smoking. In addition, it has been proven to lead to marijuana use, and for some individuals, this has progressed to other drug use.

Everything is Connected—Vaping, Mental Health, and Substance Use Challenges

Co-occurring problems are common. In 2020, 29.3% of adults aged 18 and older had a co-occurring disorder, and 20.9% of adolescents struggled with the same problem.

Various studies have discovered some of the following information regarding substance use disorders and electronic cigarettes:

  • Individuals with a co-occurring problem are twice as likely to have tried vaping.
  • Three times as likely to be users of battery-powered electronic nicotine delivery devices.
  • Individuals with a co-occurring disorder are more likely to believe that e-cigarettes will help them quit smoking.
  • E-cigarette users are more likely to vape cannabis oils.
  • Users are also more likely to use electronic cigarettes with traditional tobacco products.

Overall, electronic cigarettes are often the first substance that teens and young adults use. Unfortunately, it has been associated with future risk of multi-substance use.

Tips to Help Someone Using E-Cigarettes or Drugs

  • Communicate your concerns and understand what they are experiencing. Their drug addiction is likely a more significant problem than their nicotine addiction.
  • Offer your support and provide treatment options. Most drug rehab centers offer help to stop smoking.
  • Take steps to intervene if necessary. Struggling with addiction is not easy, and individuals face numerous hurdles.

Everything You Need to Know About Electronic Cigarettes

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, yet cannabis oils are commonly vaped. In addition, hallucinogenic drugs like DMT are also vaped.

  • Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.
  • Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.

They are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol or mix of small particles in the air. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid. Using e-cigarettes is sometimes called vaping. They are known by some of the following names:

  • e-cigs
  • e-hookahs
  • mods
  • vape pens
  • vapes
  • tanks systems
  • electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

JUUL is a brand of e-cigarette that is shaped like a USB flash drive. This product has a high level of nicotine, according to the manufacturer.

Electronic Cigarette Aerosol

The aerosol that the user breathes and exhales from the device can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Nicotine
  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead

Overall, it isn't easy to know exactly what the product contains. The aerosol can also contain cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that reach deep into the lungs. However, it still contains fewer harmful chemicals than smoke from burned tobacco products.

Electronic Cigarettes and Quitting Smoking

The FDA does not currently approve e-cigarettes as a quit smoking aid. However, electronic cigarettes may help non-pregnant adults who smoke if used as a complete substitute for all tobacco products.

The CDC found that many adults are using e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit smoking. However, most adults do not stop using tobacco products.

Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows the following:

E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.

  • In 2021, 2.06 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 2.8% (320,000) of middle school students and 11.3% (1.72 million) of high school students.
  • In 2020, 3.7% of U.S. adults currently use e-cigarettes.
  • In 2019, among current adult e-cigarette users overall, 36.9% also currently smoked cigarettes, 39.5% formerly smoked cigarettes, and 23.6% had never smoked cigarettes.
  • Among current adult e-cigarette users, the percentage who have never smoked cigarettes is highest among those aged 18–24 years (56.0%), and is lower in older age groups.


Marcel Gemme, DATS

Marcel Gemme, DATS


on July 15, 2022

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.