Pediatrics | Published July 21, 2020

Teens and vaping: Information and tips to help you talk to your teen

In recent years, vaping rates have been escalating, especially among teens. Approximately 25 percent of teens use vaping products, making this a big concern for parents. According to the most recent Centre County Community Health Needs Assessment, vaping is a growing challenge in the county, with nearly 1 in 10 youth reporting vaping, indicating a shift from traditional cigarette to e-cigarette use.

What is vaping?

Vaping is the inhaling of a vapor by a battery-powered smoking device, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), vape pens, electronic cigars (e-cigars) and other vaping devices. Vaping devices have pods or cartridges filled with a liquid that contains nicotine, a highly addictive and toxic substance, as well as flavoring and chemical additives. The batteries in the vaping device heat up the liquid, turning the liquid into vapor to be inhaled. Some cartridges even contain THC, which is the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.

Vaping devices come in various different sizes and designs. Some look like a computer flash drive, such as the JUUL e-cigarette, while others can look like a ballpoint pen. Vaping devices are small, portable, odorless – or leave little odor – and are easy to hide.

Factors contributing to the rising use of vaping devices

In the United States, it is illegal for people under the age of 18 to purchase e-cigarettes. Some states have increased the age limit to 21. Even with the age restrictions, vaping rates continue to rise among teens. Some of the factors contributing to these increasing trends include:

  • Teens may believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
  • Vaping devices often come with different flavors, tastes and smells that appeal to teens.
  • E-cigarettes are cheaper per-use compared to traditional cigarettes.

Harmful effects of vaping

Inhaling the vapor exposes teens to a harmful combination of chemicals, which can lead to dangerous health issues including damage to the lungs, heart and brain, as well as cancer. Vaping can negatively affect brain development in teens. Brains are still developing until age 25, so it isn’t safe to use tobacco products, including vaping devices that contain harmful chemicals such as nicotine. The cartridges in the vaping device can contain the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, making vaping extremely addictive, especially among teens. Addiction can negatively impact your memory and the ability to focus, as well.

Tips for talking to your teen about vaping

Know the facts. With the growing popularity in vaping, it is important to educate yourself and teens about vaping and the harmful effects. Before talking with your child, start by educating yourself first so you are prepared with credible information. Be prepared to answer questions, such as:

  • Why don’t you want me to vape?
  • What’s the problem with nicotine?
  • Isn’t vaping safer than traditional cigarettes?

Encourage an open conversation. When talking to your teen, encourage an open dialogue by taking an inquisitive and curious approach, and avoid criticism. Approaching the issue from a nonjudgmental point of view may help your child feel more comfortable talking to you about the topic. You can start by asking if a lot of kids at school vape. Then slowly work up to asking your teen about what their personal experience is with vaping. Try to get a sense of what your kid knows about vaping, or at least what they think they know. It’s important to make sure you remain calm, be patient and listen to what your child has to say.

Explain the health risks. There is a widespread misconception that vaping is safe. Many teens are not aware that vaping devices contain nicotine. Make sure your teen understands that vaping has health risks.

Set a positive example. Set a positive example by being tobacco-free and vape-free. If you use tobacco or vape, it’s never too late to quit. For more information on how to quit, visit smokefree.gov.

Ask for support. You can ask your healthcare provider to help talk with your teen about vaping and the health risks. You can also ask other trusted adults, such as relatives or counselors, who know the risks of vaping to help support you in this conversation with your teen.

If you are concerned that your teen has become addicted, talk to your healthcare provider to learn about treatment options and resources available. There are cessation resources available to help teens quit vaping. One resource is Become An EX, which is a Truth Initiative available to parents who are trying to help their child quit vaping. The program sends text messages to parents to help them understand what their teen is going through and how they can be supportive. To learn more about Become An EX, visit becomeanex.org/helping-a-child-quit-vaping.

For more information on vaping among teens, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Office of the Surgeon General website at e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov.

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