Teen vaping is more than just a puff of smoke

Many teens are choosing to vape instead of smoking cigarettes. Vaping involves the use of small electronic devices that have a refillable atomizer that contains nicotine and flavors. The liquid in the atomizer turns into a mist that carries the nicotine into teens’ lungs when inhaled and creates the big cloud of “smoke” when exhaled. Teens generally refer to these devices as vapes, vape pens, e-cigs, e-hookahs, mods, and tank systems.

Vaping has become popular among teens because it was heavily marketed on social media. Vaping was presented as a safer way of smoking to get a nicotine high or to ingest cannabis without the smell.  The ads made vaping look kid-safe and cool. And the use of flavorings, such as chocolate, cotton candy, mint, strawberry, and whipped cream, make the product attractive to children and help hide the bad taste of nicotine or cannabis. For teens, this appears to be a win-win: a yummy-tasting treat with the effects of nicotine or cannabis that is delivered in cool packaging.

Although vaping may seem harmless, teens do not realize that e-cigarettes have big health risks. In addition to the negative effects of nicotine and cannabis on their growing bodies, e-cigarettes have additives and aerosols that produce cancer-causing substances such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the vapor.  If you would like to know more about the dangers of marijuana during adolescence, please see my blog post: How to teach teens the risks of pot when Marijuana is legal.  Moreover, the high temperatures that are produced by the heating element in vaping pens can release metals, such as lead, nickel, and tin, into the vapor that is inhaled. All these chemicals can have lasting effects on the cognitive development of adolescents’ brains and the health of their bodies.

Also concerning is the risk of poisoning to young children who gain access to vaping materials. The cartridges of liquid nicotine and flavors are often colorful and smell appetizing. Because they do not have child-proof lids, young children are able to open the vials and drink the contents.  The amount of nicotine in these cartridges is concentrated enough to cause a fatal overdose.

Most teens start vaping out of curiosity and many think that they are just inhaling flavors. Yet, vaping has been directly marketed to children and teens as a way to get new smokers in an era when smoking cigarettes is on the decline. Vaping has been approved for medical use to help adults who are currently heavy smokers who wish to reduce or stop smoking because the risks associated with vaping in this population is lower than their risk with smoking. However, vaping has been shown to cause nicotine addiction and health concerns in teens and young adults. The use of kid-friendly flavors is what draws teens to the device and then they become hooked on the effect of nicotine in their bodies.

Parents can help their teens avoid this threat by talking directly about the health risks and dangers of vaping in addition to normal cigarettes, nicotine, and marijuana.  Promoting a chemical-free (e.g. no cigarettes, joints, e-cigarettes, pills, etc.) lifestyle during adolescence can be helpful in guiding teens to resist peer-pressure. Most importantly, offering a safe space for teens to come and talk to can get honest and truthful information when questions or concerns arise can be the most helpful in preventing or limiting substance use.

Vaping is very popular among teens and seems to be increasing. Parents can help their children avoid the dangers associated with vaping by providing good information and helping them understand that they are being directly marketed to and lied to about the safety of vaping. The same way that cigarette smoking has decreased in youth with effective health campaigns, the issue of vaping can also be addressed by educating youth about the real risks.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2019). Electronic nicotine delivery systems: Quick facts. CDC Office on Smoking and Health. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html Retrieved May 28, 2019.

Morean, M. E., Kong, G., Camenga, D. R., Cavallo D. A. & Krishnan-Sarin, S. (2015). High school students’ use of electronic cigarettes to vaporize cannabis. Pediatrics 136(4), pp. 611-616.

Rohde, J. A., Noar, S. M., Horvitz, C., Lazard, A. J., Cornacchione Ross, J., & Sutfin, E. L. (2018). The role of knowledge and risk beliefs in adolescent e-cigarette use: A pilot study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15, doi: 10.3390/ijerph15040830.

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