Students Turn to Vapes to Relieve Stress

A growing number of young Cambodians are turning to vaping as a way to relieve stress, but many are unaware of the detrimental health consequences it brings
Authorities say that celebrities using vapes on social media, setting bad example for young fans. Kiripost via Pixabay
Authorities say that celebrities using vapes on social media, setting bad example for young fans. Kiripost via Pixabay

The growing trend of vaping among Cambodian youth has ignited concerns as students and young adults are increasingly turning to electronic cigarettes as a way to cope with stress and find temporary relief. 

Driven by curiosity for stress reduction, as voices from various age groups share their experiences, the complex landscape of vaping's impact on Cambodian society becomes more apparent.

Sovath, 17, a Grade 11 high school student in Phnom Penh, shared his experience of smoking a vape for more than four months. Despite being aware of the potential health risks, Sovath said that vaping made him feel good and helped him cope with family problems and stress.

Sovath explained, "I want to smoke it because it makes me feel good and helps me deal with my family problems. When I puff, I feel happy and it reduces my stress." He admitted that smoking helped him find temporary relief from the everyday stressors in his life.

When asked about the frequency of his vaping, Sovath revealed, "I smoke a vape about five to six times a day. It is effective for about a day, and after a week, I need to renew the coil." He also mentioned that he is not afraid of others knowing about his habit, despite the school having a vape ban.

However, Sovath expressed concerns about the addictive nature of vaping and the fear of his parents finding out. He stated, "I am willing to quit vaping because I'm afraid my parents will find out. It's probably difficult to quit because it contains nicotine, which is addictive."

When questioned about his knowledge of the ingredients in vape, Sovath admitted, "I don't know much about the ingredients, except for nicotine. It helps me reduce stress, but I'm uncertain about its impact on my health."

Mongkul, an 18-year-old high school student, shared his experience of falling into a vaping addiction that innocently began out of curiosity, but evolved into a habit spanning two years.

According to Monkul, he started experimenting with vaping when he was introduced to it by friends. His initial curiosity led him to take that first puff. Gradually it became a habit, making it a regular part of his life.

What started as simple curiosity soon turned into a coping mechanism for stress, especially during times of academic pressure. Mongkul admitted that when he feels stressed while studying, vaping helps him relax and release that stress. It soon became a habit he could not do without, and he now acknowledges that he is addicted.

The stress from studying and exams pushed Mongkul to rely on vaping as a way to cope with the pressures. It became a cycle of stress, vaping, and relief. Although he is aware of the harm it causes to his lungs, quitting has become a challenge.

"Stress from studying and exams led me to rely on vaping as a way to cope. It became a cycle of stress, vape, relief. I realize it's harming my lungs, but it's hard to quit now," he added.

Mongkul revealed that he has spent approximately $800 over the course of two years on vaping equipment and flavors. Vaping machines cost $2 each, and the weekly flavor pods add up to $8.

He keeps his vaping habit a secret from his parents, fearing their reaction. "I'm afraid of their anger and disappointment. I've managed to hide it so far, but I know it's not the right thing to do," he admitted.

Despite being aware of the negative impact on his health, Mongkul finds it challenging to quit. He said, “All I knew was that vaping had nicotine and helped release stress. I want to quit, but it's not easy. I’m addicted."

Bora, a 24-year-old working at an institution in Phnom Penh, has been using a vape for the past seven years since high school. According to him, vaping provides a refreshing and cool sensation in his mouth and throat, helping him relieve stress. 

He acknowledges that vape contains nicotine, a substance that stimulates the brain and produces feelings of happiness, thereby reducing stress levels. 

“Vaping is less addictive than smoking cigarettes, as vapes typically contain only 3 percent of nicotine compared to the 30% percent found in cigarettes,” Bora said. 

Bora purchases his vape from a shop near his high school and he vapes after work and exercise. He indulges in vaping about two to three times a day, taking two to three puffs each time.

Despite acknowledging the addictive nature of vaping, Bora feels that quitting is not as challenging as stopping smoking cigarettes due to the lower nicotine content. He considers vaping to be a less harmful alternative.

Bora's vape usage is limited, with one vape lasting him nearly half a month. He claims that he has undergone a lung x-ray, which showed no problems. Although his parents are aware of his vaping habit, they advise against it.

Bora mentioned, “Cambodian society tends to judge individuals who smoke, linking it with being part of gangs or bad people.” However, he clarified, “I smoke and do not consider myself a bad person. I am a normal sportsman and not involved in smoking to be cool or gangs."

Bora believes that vaping is a means to relieve stress. He encourages people to conduct more research on nicotine and its effects on the lungs to gain a better understanding.

“I do not recommend it for teens or high school students,” he said, expressing concern that it could potentially lead to the use of other drugs. He also believes that young people may not fully comprehend the side effects. 

However, he reiterated, “Vaping for me is not a bad thing, but do not smoke for fun. It’s not correct. If you don't smoke yet, don't get involved. But if you do smoke, don't smoke too much."

Dr. Kong Mom, Executive Director of the Cambodian Movement for Health (CMH), has highlighted the concerning aspects of vaping compared to cigarettes. He argued that vaping contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, making it more addictive and potentially pushing users towards other addictive substances. 

Dr. Mom also points out that the promotion of vaping often comes from sellers who manipulate consumers by claiming it reduces stress and portrays a "cool" image.

According to the doctor, teenagers who vape are exposed to excessive amounts of nicotine, which can negatively impact brain and nervous system development while reducing physical immunity. 

“The effects of vaping on the lungs, heart, and memory are also a cause for concern.”

He cited the World Health Organization's findings that vaping products generally contain higher nicotine levels than cigarettes. The negative effects of vaping are particularly pronounced among teenagers, with lung damage being a significant concern.

Dr. Mom emphasized that vaping should not be seen as a stress-relieving tool, as it can actually contribute to increased stress levels, more expenses, and addiction. Instead, he suggested that individuals identify the root causes of their stress and find healthier coping mechanisms. 

He added, “Vaping is aggressively marketed towards teenagers and adults, making it a significant public health concern, and vaping can be a pathway to drug use. While cigarette smoking is regulated by laws that designated smoking areas, vaping remains a largely unregulated practice.”

The CMH director urged caution regarding vaping, pointing out its addictive substances, negative health effects, and targeted marketing towards vulnerable populations. He is calling for stricter regulations on the sale and purchase of vaping products, as well as increased awareness about the dangers of vaping as a gateway to drug use.