Does vaping cloud thinking? Studies look at mental fog

Those who started vaping between 8 and 13-years old were also more likely to report problems with concentrating, remembering or making decisions.

Monika Warzecha 3 minute read December 30, 2020

Two studies looked at vaping and self-reported issues with mental function. Getty

Though studies of e-cigarettes have largely focused on the lungs, new research suggests that vaping may be linked to mental fog in both teens and adults.

Two studies from the University of Rochester Medical Center, published in the journals Tobacco Induced Diseases and Plos One, are the first to make the link between vaping and mental function in humans; other studies have traced the association in animals.

The researchers drew on data from two massive American surveys: 18,000 middle and high school students were questioned in the National Youth Tobacco Survey and more than 886,000 U.S. adults were also asked about smoking, vaping and issues such as memory and attention in the the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System phone survey.

The vaping study on youth was especially troubling. Writing in Tobacco Induced Diseases, the researchers found that among youth in grades six to 12, 31 per cent who vaped and smoked traditional tobacco cigarettes self-reported serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. They were followed by those who smoked cigarettes at nearly 25 per cent, those who only used e-cigarettes (nearly 20 per cent) and then those who didn’t use either at roughly 15 per cent.

The University of Rochester team also found that those who started vaping very early — between eight and 13 years old — were more likely to report experiencing problems with concentrating, remembering or making decisions.

“With the recent rise in teen vaping, this is very concerning and suggests that we need to intervene even earlier,” said Dongmei Li, associate professor in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the study lead, in a news release.

“Prevention programs that start in middle or high school might actually be too late.”

The research into adults who smoke and vape, published in Plos One, also found a greater link in reporting cognitive issues among smokers. Dual users of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes and current vapers, who were either ex-smokers or had never never smoked traditional cigarettes, showed a significantly higher association with cognitive complaints than those who never smoked either form.

The youth study notes that previous research has linked nicotine to concentration and memory issues. But it’s hard to say whether it’s a case of cause and effect. The news release points out: “It is possible that nicotine exposure through vaping causes difficulty with mental function. But it is equally possible that people who report mental fog are simply more likely to smoke or vape — possibly to self-medicate.”

Either way, the research team believes more research into the issue of mental fog and smoking is needed, and that it’s further proof that e-cigarette health risks should be treated seriously.

“Our studies add to growing evidence that vaping should not be considered a safe alternative to tobacco smoking,” Li said.

Monika Warzecha is a homepage editor with

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