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Teens and Vaping: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

According to the CDC, teen use of cigarettes is down, but there's a new hazard on the rise. Vaping, or electronic cigarettes, creates new dangers for addiction, illness and even death. Learn the facts to keep your kids safe.
Teens and vaping
Updated: December 1, 2022

Vaping, e-cigs, e-cigars, hookah, vape pens, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems are replacing cigarettes as the new fad for kids, teens and young adults. Since their U.S. introduction in 2007, "E-cigarette usage has doubled among middle and high school students," according to a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey data from 2014 show that e-cigarettes are the most frequently used tobacco product, more so than combustible cigarettes." Many adults turn to e-cigs to help curb their cigarette addiction, but they can be just as harmful as smoking, especially for kids.

The dangers of teen vaping5 Things to Know About the Dangers of Vaping

Here are eight important things you need to know as a parent about vaping, and how to help your child and teen make smarter choices.

  1. The Source of the "Smoke": E-cigarettes contain a vaporizer and nicotine cartridge that produce an aerosolized mixture of flavored liquids and nicotine, which is inhaled by the user. Nothing is burned, so no smoke is actually produced. Instead, it's the vapor that you see coming from the device.
  2. Secondhand E-cigarette Vapor Is Toxic: While the water vapor itself may be less harmful than ordinary cigarette smoke, it is still harmful to breathe in. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, harmful toxicants, including carcinogens, formaldehyde and metal particles have been found in e-cigarette emissions.
  3. They Made to Be Fun and Enticing: E-cigarettes can look like traditional tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and pipes, or they can be hidden in common gadgets like flashlights, flash drives or pens. The nicotine cartridges contain flavors like vanilla, chocolate, fruit, pina colada and bubble gum, which makes them a lot more palatable than the smoky nicotine flavor of cigarettes.
  4. They Are Completely Unregulated: Not only are there no federal age limits for purchasing e-smoke devices, there is also no regulation about what goes into the products, including harmful chemicals, nicotine levels and other additives. "In some states, kids of any age are able to purchase e-cigarettes in stores, mall kiosks, conveniences stores, or online," according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.
  5. Liquid Nicotine Can Be Fatal: Liquid nicotine, the solution that is used to refill these devices, is sold in colorful, and often sweet-smelling packaging that is enticing to young children. It looks and smells like candy, but drinking even a teaspoon can kill an infant. Most states don't require child-safe packaging for liquid nicotine.

    Refills act like a nicotine patch on skin contact. "There are three routes of exposure that (are toxic to) children," says Dr. Kyran Quinlan, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. "If they put it in their mouth, even without swallowing, it will be absorbed into the mucous membranes, just like nicotine gum. If they swallow, it will be absorbed in the intestinal tract. If they spill it on their skin, it's absorbed through the skin just like a nicotine patch."

Symptoms of liquid nicotine poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Jitters
  • Trouble breathing
  • Drooling and excessive salivary production

If you suspect your child may be affected, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.

How to Talk to Your Kids About E-Cigs

The Surgeon General has released a brief tip sheet on the dangers of e-cigarettes and how to lead a conversation with your teens to help them avoid the peer pressure of vaping with friends. Their tips include how to find the right moment, sample responses to kids' questions about vaping, and ways to keep the conversation going.

Having "the talk" isn't a one-time thing. You need to keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know you're open to answering any of their questions and providing the support they need.

Start a conversation about teen vaping3 Conversation Starters to Use TODAY

It's hard to start a conversation with teens without risking pushing them away. Here are three conversation starters courtesy of the CDC:

  • I just learned that many e-cigarettes have nicotine in them. That's the drug that makes cigarettes so addictive. Nicotine can also mess with your brain development.

  • I just saw a report from the Surgeon General that e-cigarettes can mess with how your brain develops and might even affect your mood and focus. Please don't use any products that contain nicotine.

  • I hope none of your friends use e-cigarettes around you. Even breathing the cloud they exhale can expose you to nicotine and chemicals that can be dangerous to your health.

Talk to you teen about e-cigarettes and make sure they're aware of the dangers. Make sure they know that although they're not technically smoking, they are still ingesting harmful chemicals into their bodies.


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