Quit the Hit
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Quit the Hit

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An Instagram-based cessation program to help teens quit vaping 

Youth vaping is a significant public health concern—from its implications for physical and mental health to its COVID-associated risks. The good news is that 45% of teens who vape want to quit. Traditional cessation programs often fail, so we examined the quitting journey, got rid of the tradition, approached quitting with compassion, and created a brand-new vaping cessation support group for young people called Quit the Hit

Quit the Hit supports teens and young adults by delivering an evidence-based vaping intervention in a widespread, engaging, socially-supportive manner. The cessation support group is a 30-day intervention that teaches young people how to quit vaping through group chats on Instagram. 

 

Quit the Hit provides 30 days of online vaping cessation support in groups of 10-15 teens with active moderation by a cessation guide. 


Understanding the path to quitting and the opportunity space 

In order to create a solution to quitting vaping we needed to understand more about the meaning and realities of vaping for young people. During in-depth, guided conversations, we talked to nearly 300 teens about their lives, vaping, and why they wanted to quit and what was hard about quitting, since many had tried, without support or success, before. From those conversations, we were able to develop a story, not necessarily representative of all teens—or even the majority—about the experience of vaping that would guide us in our design decisions. 

Teen vaping most often begins in social situations, with young people often using a peer’s device when they vape for the first time. It often feels exciting at first; not only is it part of a shared social experience, but the high from the nicotine is changing the chemistry of the young teen brain. In the moment, though, it feels calming, exciting, dizzying—all at once. 

“I’m too dependent on this—if I don’t have this, then I’m angry, I’m withdrawing. And like it’s all I can think about I can’t focus.”

As soon as a month after beginning to vape, many teens notice some negative effects such as craving it first thing in the morning, affecting their body in unwanted ways, or complicating their relationship with their parents. Dependency on vaping can create anxiety instead of reduce it, and managing anxiety is why many teens start to vape in the first place. Many young people feel stuck in a place where vaping is neither totally good nor totally bad—their dependency on the drug often outweighs their desire to quit. Because vaping is often a social activity, it may be even harder to continue on the quitting journey if a young person’s friends are still vaping. We heard about feelings of guilt, nervousness, embarrassment, feeling alone in the struggle to quit, and even capitulation—that vaping is worth it to take the edge off before a big test or a hit or two is socially acceptable at parties.

“It’s not serving me. It’s getting my mom mad at me. It’s not serving my health…it’s a nicotine rush, but does that do anything? No.”

For teens who decide to quit—and many do try, even several times—they often piece together an ad hoc plan on their own. They gather tips from friends, do their own online research, and try to form their own support group. Some buy nicotine gum or lollipops to take the edge off. Some tell their best friends. The road to quitting is paved with good intentions and it’s also extremely lonely, which is likely why it can be a painful journey. 

When I tell people I was quitting they’d be like, ‘oh okay, I won’t let you touch this…’ So like it’s kind of like a community effort.”

Many programs focus on prevention rather than offering coaching guides on how to quit. Quit the Hit infuses a social environment into the quitting process. The program addresses specific fears and hesitations teens have with traditional fear-based prevention programs. It cuts out the noise and provides relevant reasons to quit, peer support, educational fundamentals, and clinical support in a way that feels engaging, collaborative, and compassionate—like a breath of fresh air. 

 


Quit the Hit’s hope-centered design values 

We believe that there is a way to quit vaping. No matter how hard it feels. No matter how many times a person may have already tried. And no matter the duration and extent the person has vaped to date. We believe the journey to quitting is possible because Quit the Hit guides teens with the steps to quit. Our design principles are centered around three themes: hope, compassion, and connection.

It was essential for us to infuse these human components into our digital intervention; we believe that these elements are the “secret sauce” that make this tool work for young people. 

Building trust with participants through compassion for what young people are going through in a digital world, over social media, is certainly no easy task, especially without the benefit of live conversations. The visual design of Quit the Hit, the use of bright and balanced colors and illustrations, doesn’t over-dramatize anything and shows contemplation rather than stigmatization. It’s a fine balance between realism and optimism, but one achieved through the thoughtful consideration in branding. 

The Quit the Hit program is centered on a set of six core values, inspired by our interviews with teens and co-created with youth. 

  1. We believe that everyone deserves a personalized quit plan.
  2. We believe in celebrating small wins on the road to quitting.
  3. We believe in no stigma or shame—ever.
  4. We believe in sitting with the darkness when we need to. 
  5. We believe that only you can decide if you’re ready to quit vaping.
  6. We believe that helping others is a huge way to give back and stay motivated. 

These values are communicated often within the Quit the Hit program. 

  • They are featured prominently on our Instagram account and website with bespoke editorial illustrations to differentiate them from other visuals. 
  • Early in the program, participants are asked to identify the value that is most important to them and share with the group. 
  • Quit groups are reminded of values at specific moments to encourage connection and conversation. 


Partnership for vaping industry change 

This important work is being developed in collaboration with Rescue Agency, a San Diego, CA behavior change marketing firm with expertise in public health and tobacco control initiatives, and the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education (CTCRE), a leading scientific voice against practices that undermine science at the expense of human lives. Much like in the early days of traditional cigarette research, very little is known about the health effects of vaping. However, a lot of what is known comes out of the research from the UCSF CTCRE. The combined core competencies of this partnership bring to bear a mix of deep research expertise, co-creation design processes, and dynamic outreach capabilities.


Evidence-based program success 

As an evidence-driven organization, we’ve worked with Rescue Agency and UCSF to conduct focus groups with nearly 300 teens who have vaping experience, prototyped the intervention with 90+ teens, and have more than a decade of experience developing tech-based interventions. We built the intervention on the foundation of three NIH-funded and two state of CA-funded clinical trials, as well as more than 20 papers in scientific literature on effective social media intervention models.

For multiple years, Rescue Agency and UCSF ran a successful online intervention called Smokefree Social that enrolled young adults in cessation support groups on Facebook. The program evaluation indicated significant short-term outcomes for young adults attempting to quit with 45% reporting abstinence from smoking at the end of  the 30-day program. We also found that young adults were more likely to access cessation support services delivered via our social-media-based intervention than through traditional Quitline support .

We’ve applied this proven framework to teen vaping with Quit the Hit, and our pilot is showing similar results. Quit the Hit is reaching the right teens, engaging with teens effectively in a group setting, and increasing teen quit skills. As the program expands to more cities, states, and school districts, lessons learned are applied to perfect the program’s tactics and messages.

 

For more information on bringing Quit the Hit to your community, contact:

Krysten Isaac / Rescue Agency 

Group Management Director,

Tobacco Prevention

kisaac@rescueagency.com

 

For press inquiries, contact: 

Robin Raskob / Hopelab 

robin@hopelab.org 

 


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