How many people are ‘vaping’ to lose or control their weight?

Research published in the scientific journal Addictive Behaviors suggest that the use of e-cigarettes — or “vaping” — could be considered a novel “fad diet.”

The study of 459 adult e-cigarette users found 13.5% of the sample reported “vaping” to lose or control their weight — even though e-cigarettes have not been approved for weight loss. The participants reported vaping between 21 to 40 minutes per day on average.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Meghan E. Morean of Oberlin College. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Morean: We know from prior research studies that one of the reasons that some people smoke cigarettes is to lose weight or to manage their weight. However, no one had studied whether some individuals who use e-cigarettes vape for weight loss. I had the initial thought that some people may be using flavored e-cigarettes for weight loss or management, particularly flavors that mimic high calorie foods like desserts and candy. As an example, I thought that people who are trying to lose weight may be choosing to vape cupcake-flavored e-liquid that contains 0 calories rather than eating a 400 calorie cupcake. Although I did not assess this directly in the study, my idea is was that some people may be using e-cigarettes as a food substitute.

What should the average person take away from your study?

In this study, about 1 out of every 7 adult e-cigarette users reported vaping to lose or manage their weight, indicating that vaping for weight loss is a real phenomenon even though e-cigarettes are not approved weight loss devices. These individuals were likely to be overweight, diet by restricting calories, vape frequently, and prefer coffee-flavored or vanilla-flavored e-cigarettes. They also were likely to have problems with self-control, which is associated both with substance use and with weight problems. Interestingly, vaping to lose weight was equally common among men and women. This is different from research on cigarettes, which typically shows that women are more likely to smoke for weight-related reasons.

Are there any major caveats?

The study was conducted online and the 459 study participants may not be representative of all e-cigarette users. Also, all study participants reported that they currently were interested in losing or maintaining their weight, which may have inflated the rates of endorsing vaping for weight loss or management.

What questions still need to be addressed?

There are a number of questions that still need to be answered. For example, what percentage of adult e-cigarette users reports vaping for weight loss or management in a large, nationally representative sample? What are the rates of vaping for weight loss or management in teenagers? Are rates elevated in certain groups of people who may be considered “high risk” for using e-cigarettes for weight loss like individuals who have eating disorders (e.g., anorexia, bulimia)? As I mentioned before, this research is in the very early stages. Hopefully, I will be able to begin answering some of these important questions after I wrap up some of our current research studies.

The study, “Vaping to lose weight: Predictors of adult e-cigarette use for weight loss or control“, was also co-authored by Amelia V. Wedel.