Teen Vaping: What Parents Need to Know

Vaping is rapidly growing among teenagers, with approximately 40% of high school seniors reporting that they used a vape device within the past year.1

Contrary to popular belief and flashy marketing campaigns, vaping is not safer than smoking, and may increase teenagers’ risk of lung damage, addiction, and other physical and mental ailments. Here’s what parents need to know about this risky habit.

What is Vaping?

Vaping involves inhaling a vapor through an electronic cigarette, JUUL, or other vaping device. Instead of smoke, vape users inhale particles of aerosolized liquid instead of smoke. This vape liquid may contain nicotine, artificial flavoring, and chemicals.

In some cases, vape liquid may contain illicit substances such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. These ingredients can be highly dangerous and addictive, especially with long-term use.

How do E-Cigarettes Work?

There are many different types of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, each with its own design and components. However, most vaping devices contain two main elements: a cartridge full of vape liquid, and a battery that heats up the liquid to produce vapor.

When a user inhales on a vape, the heating element within the device warms up the liquid, producing aerosolized particles. The user then inhales these particles into their lungs. If the vape liquid contains and addictive substance, such as nicotine or THC, the user will experience the intended effect in the same way as if they were smoking a cigarette or dried marijuana.

types of e-cigarettes

Vape Products and Paraphernalia

If your teen owns vape products and paraphernalia, they may have a vape addiction. Vapes can come in a variety of different designs, which can make them hard to identify. The most common types include disposable and rechargeable e-cigarettes, tanks and mods, and pod mods.

Disposable E-Cigarettes

Disposable vapes and e-cigarettes are intended to be used for one time only. These products are pre-filled with vape liquid and discarded once the internal cartridge runs out. They may look like actual cigarettes or pens, or be designed in a similar fashion as never vape models.

The brand STIG is a popular brand of disposable vape devices, filled with nicotine salt designed to absorb into the blood faster than traditional cigarettes. A STIG is similar in size to a Juul, and is attractive to teens due to its low produce and popular flavors. 

Reusable E-Cigarettes

Reusable vape devices are some of the most commonly used e-cigarettes. These devices are rechargeable and typically composed of two parts: a cartridge and a battery. The cartridge contains the vape liquid, which users can purchase separately and swap out once the liquid is completely vaporized.

These devices are small and easy to conceal, which make them attractive for teen use. They can be used discreetly and easily mistaken for common household items, such as pens.

Tanks & Mods

Another type of reusable e-cigarette are tanks or mods, which are larger devices that are made up of multiple components. These devices can look very different, but most look have a cartridge, or tank, attached to a large brick-shaped battery.

Although not as common among teenagers as the more discreet and cheaper devices, tanks or mods can be used multiple times and modified to customize the vaping experience. These products are known for a higher vape production than traditional e-cigarettes.

Pod Mods & JUULs

A pod mod is a type of e-cigarette that includes either a pre-filled or refillable pod or pod cartridge full of vape liquid. These devices are typically small and compact, and may be used to vape nicotine, THC, and CBD. You can charge pod mods like a phone.

One of the most popular brands of pod mods are JUULs, compact and sleek e-cigarettes that look similar to USB drives. JUUL pods used to come in a variety of flavors that were attractive to teens, including mango and creme, until the federal government placed a partial ban on fruit, dessert, and mint-flavored pods to discourage teen use.

Why Parents Should Be Concerned About Vaping

Teen vaping can lead to serious health problems. Marketing tactics from vape companies suggest that vape devices are not as dangerous or harmful as smoking, but the opposite is true. Not only can these devices irritate and damage the lungs, long-term vape use may have an impact on a teenager’s mental development and increase their risk of cancer as well.

Vapes haven’t been on the market for a very long time; the first commercially-available electronic cigarette was invented in 2003. We do not yet understand the long-term effects of vapes, and we may not know how these devices affect our bodies until years in the future.

The line is the teens who start vaping now can experience physical and mental health issues now, and may develop unknown consequences later.

Vaping's Effects on Physical Health

Vaping can pose a serious risk to heart health due to the chemicals in vape liquids. Taking a puff off a vape may increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which can harm cardiovascular health in the long-term.2

Vape users and cigarette smokers are more likely to have heart disease than people who do not use these products.3 In addition, e-cigarette use is associated with a higher risk of stroke, angina, and heart attack.4
Vaping’s effects on the lungs can be severe, resulting in lung damage and inflammation. The chemicals in vape liquids can be potentially harmful, and when we inhale them, they can lead to significant respiratory damage.

Vaping may disrupt lung function in otherwise healthy people.5 In 2019, the United States saw an outbreak in lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes, leading to 2,807 hospitalizations and 68 deaths.6

We may not know how long-term vape use affects the lungs until 20 to 30 years from now, which makes vaping risky today. Teenagers with otherwise healthy lungs may develop irritation, scarring, and irreversible lung damage after picking up this habit.
Vaping can have a serious impact on oral health. Repeated exposure to vape liquid aerosol can damage the surface of the teeth, promoting bacteria development and increasing cavity risk.7

Plus, vaping can lead to gum inflammation, which can result in damaging gum disease.8 Vaping also irritates the mouth, throat, and gums, damaging sensitive oral tissue and leading to long-term dental health consequences.9
Since vaping is relatively new, we do not yet know about its long-term effects and whether or not vaping itself causes cancer. However, there is substantial evidence that suggests vaping can lead to oxidative stress, DNA damage, and cell dysfunction.2

Some of these cellular impairments are linked to the development of cancer over time. While we may not see conclusive research until years from now, this preliminary evidence is a cause for concern.

Vaping's Effects on Mental Health

Our brains do not fully develop until we are around 25 years old, meaning that teenagers’ brains are still growing and changing. The nicotine in vape liquids may damage a developing brain, leading to long-term consequences.10

Teenagers who vape can see permanent changes to the parts of the brain responsible for emotion, memory, and critical thinking. This may lead to a higher risk of developing a mod disorder.

Nicotine, a highly addictive substance found in cigarettes, is a key ingredient in many vape liquids. Over time, a teenager who vapes may develop an addiction to nicotine.

They may find themselves using the device more often and in higher quantities than usual. They may want to stop vaping, but are unable to quit because their bodies are dependent on the substance.

When a teen does try to stop vaping, even for a short period of time, they may develop intense cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Signs of nicotine withdrawal include:

  1. Anxiety and jitteriness
  2. Headaches
  3. Anger and irritability
  4. Difficulty concentrating
  5. Fatigue and grogginess
  6. Hunger
  7. Increased sweating
  8. Sadness or depression
  9. Difficulty sleeping
  10. Intense cravings for e-cigarettes
Anxiety, or feelings of panic, worry, and nervousness, is a common mental health condition in the United States. Because anxiety is a common sign of nicotine withdrawal, vaping may trigger these symptoms in users.11

If a teen is addicted to vaping and stops using, they may experience feelings of stress of anxiety until they start vaping again. They may feel as if vaping helps calm their nerves, when in reality, vape use is exacerbating these feelings of anxiety.
Depression is a mental health condition characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. Because vaping and nicotine can interfere with brain development, teenagers who vape may have a higher risk of depression than others.

E-cigarette users are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population, and those who vape more frequently are more likely to have depression than those who vape less often.12

Signs of Teen Vaping

Vaping can lead to serious consequences with long-term use, especially in young people. It is possible to reverse these effects by identifying the habit and taking steps to quit, but since many teens hide their addiction from their parents, it can be difficult for parents to intervene.

If you believe your teen is vaping, watch for the following signs.

Unusual Electronic Devices

Vapes can look like pens, USB drives, and other electronic devices. If you come across an unfamiliar electronic device with holes on each end, it may be a vape.

Increased Thirst

Vaping leads to dry mouth and dehydration, causing your teen to reach for their water bottle more often.

Chronic Coughing

Vaping irritates the lungs, leading to a chronic cough. If your otherwise healthy teen is coughing more than usual, this may be a red flag.

Increased Paranoia

Teens who vape hide their addiction from their parents, and may want more privacy to use these devices in secret. A teen who seems unusually bothered by parental intrusion may be vaping.

Unexplained Sweet Smells

Vape liquid comes in a variety of flavors, including root beet, cotton candy, and creme brûlée. If you smell something sweet in your house, it may be vape liquid.

Loss of Taste

Older people's taste buds become less sensitive with age, but teenagers shouldn't have this problem. If you notice your teen putting more salt or spices on their food, they may have vapor's tongue, a condition that leads to a loss of flavor perception.13

Common Vaping Myths

Vaping is surrounded by a number of common myths that make the habit seem safer and more attractive than it actually is. This misinformation can make it easier for teens to pick up the habit, and knowing the truth can discourage vaping.

Myth #1: Vapes Are Safer Than Cigarettes

This myth is one of the most common. While there may not be as many dangerous cancer-causing chemicals in vapes than there are in cigarettes, vapes can still deliver carcinogens to our lungs.

Plus, vaping is linked to a wide variety of adverse health effects, including lung damage, depression, and gastrointestinal issues. Teens who vape are also four times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes a year after starting the habit.14

Myth #2: Vape liquid is Just Water Vapor

Many teens believe that vape liquid is just flavored water, but that’s not the case. Vape liquid contains nicotine, a highly addictive substance also found in cigarettes, as well as potentially harmful chemicals and toxins. When you vape, you inhale these chemicals into your lungs, which can lead to dangerous consequences.

Myth #3: Vaping isn’t Addictive

It’s a common belief that vaping isn’t addictive, or is somehow less addictive than cigarettes. Using e-cigarettes can absolutely lead to addiction and dependence — approximately 99% of e-cigarettes sold in the U.S. convenience stores contain nicotine.15 This substance is highly addictive and found in regular cigarettes as well as vape liquid.

Tips for Talking to Teens About Vaping

Discovering your teen has a vaping addiction can be a scary experience. Your first instinct may be to get angry and punish them for their behavior, but doing so can make it more difficult for your child to seek help.

Instead, follow these tips to approach your teen with compassion, credibility, and guidance.

Do Your Research

Before you talk to your teen about vaping, conduct some research into vapes, their health effects, and the different types of products available. This will allow you to enter the conversation as informed as possible, and you can pass this knowledge onto your child.

Be Open & Supportive

If you believe your teen is vaping, it’s important to be as open and supportive as possible. Acknowledge that vape use is an issue, and let your child know that you are there to help them overcome their addiction.

Entering this conversation in a combative or accusatory manner may cause your teen to shut down and refuse to talk. To encourage your teen to quit, be mindful of your approach.

Refrain from Punishment

As angry or upset you may be with your teen for using vapes, it’s important to refrain from punishment when talking about vape use. Punishment often encourages rebellion when it comes to addictive substances like nicotine, and your teen needs support to overcome their habit.

Instead of grounding them or taking something away, focus on how you can help your teen seek treatment and avoid relapse.

How to Quit Vaping

Although nicotine addiction can be intense, it is possible to kick a vape addiction. 

To begin, make recovery plan with your child. Together, choose a day to stop vaping and write down all of the reasons why your teen wants to quit. Have your teen keep that list with them so they can read it whenever they have the urge to vape.

Then, take the following steps

Step 1:

Remove all vaping supplies from your home.

Step 2 :

Visit your physician to talk about treatment options for nicotine addiction.

Step 3 :

Look for local resources for vape and nicotine addiction.

Step 4 :

Research nicotine withdrawal symptoms and how to cope with them.

Step 5 :

Identify healthier activities your child can do when they feel the urge to vape.

Withdrawal from nicotine can be difficult and painful, especially in the early stages of quitting. Your teen may encounter triggers or social situations that encourage them to vape, and the withdrawal symptoms may be too difficult to handle alone.

To avoid relapse, encourage your teen to engage in healthy alternatives to vaping, such as:

You can work with your teen to create a game plan that works best for their needs.

Approaching your child with compassion and a desire to help them overcome their dependence on e-cigarettes can make it easier for them to quit. Remember, your support is valuable.

If your teenager is struggling with vape addiction, help is available. Speak with your physician to learn more about your teen’s options for breaking their vape addiction.

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