Are Your Kids Vaping? What to Know About Teens and E-Cigs
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on May 20, 2020
Vaping is quickly becoming a top hobby for teens and young adults alike. Parents don’t know if they should worry or not, but they should.
Despite its appearance, vaping shouldn’t be considered a harmless pastime.
Above: A young girl exhales vapor after using an e-cig in Ogden, Utah. (Via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)
On average, 1 in 4 high school students vapes. Just 3 years ago, that number was different. Back then, 1 in 10 students used to vape. The fact that the number increased means that vaping in teens is trending upwards.
Over 5.3 million teens are vaping, so many that the FDA called it an epidemic. That is why all states have made selling e-cigs to persons under 18 illegal.
Is it safe for teens to vape nicotine? Is it safe for teens to vape cannabis? The answer to both questions is no.
Vaping is a problem in teens because it affects their mental and physical development. It could also lead to other substance abuse. They don’t realize it, but teens that vape can lag behind their non-vaping peers in many ways.
E-Cigs or Nicotine Vaping in Teens
Before you can talk to your teen, you need to know the ins and outs of e-cigs.
E-cigs are small devices that vaporize liquid by heating it. Then the user inhales that vapor, which is how vaping got its name. E-cigs usually consist of three parts:
- A battery that powers the device
- A heater that vaporizes the liquid
- A container that keeps the liquid
They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but they’re usually around the size of a pen.
These devices are mostly called e-cigs, but there are also different names such as:
- Vape pens
- Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)
Above: Vape pens are small and easy to hide, which makes them attractive to teens. (Via Maria Badasian/Unsplash)
There are about 460 different e-cigs brands on the market. You might hear your teen mention them in passing or see a Snapchat about a Juul.
Some brands include:
Vaping is meant to substitute smoking and help smokers quit. Even so, it is just as harmful to your health. The liquid that turns to vapor contains nicotine like regular cigarettes do.
Many teens don’t even know that e-cigs contain nicotine when they start vaping. Start the conversation with the health risks of nicotine, but be respectful of your teen. If he feels put on the spot, he won’t be open to the conversation.
Let your teen know that the health risks that go with vaping can be even greater than with smoking cigarettes. For instance:
- The device can malfunction and explode if the battery is defective
- Nicotine is highly addictive, so you can quickly get addicted to vaping
- Some substances in the vapor can cause cancer
Cannabis Vaping in Teens
Just like nicotine, you should know a bit about cannabis vaping before you talk to your teen. Being informed and prepared helps you run the conversation smoothly.
E-cigs can be used to smoke cannabis. Instead of using normal cartridges, a cannabis flower or concentrate is put inside the device. This way of consuming marijuana is becoming more and more popular by the day.
If you’re worried that the jargon you’re hearing from your teen refers to cannabis, it could be true. Some common brands for cannabis vapes include:
Both smoking and vaping cannabis carry risks. When you’re talking to your teen about cannabis vaping, some talking points include:
- Vaping oil is full of toxins: If it gets on your skin or inside your eyes and mouth, you could suffer from chemical poisoning. If you smoke cannabis, you end up inhaling different chemicals like tar instead.
- Vaping is much more powerful than smoking cannabis: The psychoactive effects of cannabis are a few times stronger when you vape the substance, which can lead to stronger side effects and tolerance.
- Vaping cannabis can affect brain development in teens: It’s well documented that THC, an active chemical in cannabis, slows development. This can lead to effects on IQ, emotional intelligence, mental health, and more.
Like any other conversation, respect your teen’s feelings and don’t talk down to them. The more open you are, the more open your teen will be, too.
Health Effects of Vaping in Teens
Your teen will want to know what makes vaping so bad, since their peers mostly see it as acceptable.
The number of lung diseases that are linked to vaping is gradually increasing. Over 200 people in 22 states have suffered from them. Most of these patients are young adults and teens.
The FDA and the CDC are still investigating this to find out the cause. Vitamin E acetate is the suspected culprit, and there’s no way to tell if your cart has vitamin E by visually inspecting it. This chemical is harmless when used topically, but when you inhale it as a vapor, it coats and scars the insides of the lungs.
The result is EVALI, or electronic vaping-associated lung injury.
Vaping doesn’t only affect teens’ lungs. Your blood vessels and your heart are also at risk. Even if the liquid you vape is nicotine-free and odorless, simply the act of vaping chemicals has negative effects on a teen’s growing body. Some of the effects are:
- Arteries becoming stiffer
- Circulation being impaired
- Blood having less oxygen
Juul is one of the devices used to vape nicotine salts. The difference between smoking tobacco and vaping nicotine salts is substantial.
- Vaping nicotine salts packs a much more powerful punch: They allow teens to inhale up to 20 times more nicotine than from one cigarette.
- Vaping these salts is far less hard on your throat than regular smoking: This means that teens can vape more often (and ingest bigger amounts of nicotine salts)
- Vaping nicotine salts can be more addictive than smoking tobacco: This is due to the sheer amount of nicotine it allows you to inhale per dose
Vaping liquids have all kinds of heavy metals and chemicals in them. When you inhale these, they end up in your lungs and blood. Once they’re there, they can cause a lot of problems like:
- Allergic reaction
- Immune system reactions
Your teen needs to know the health consequences of vaping. But they don’t need to be frightened, so start the conversation calmly and express your concern appropriately.
Be prepared with facts about the health effects of vaping and let your teen know why you don’t want them to vape: because you care about seeing them healthy.
Mental Health Effects of Vaping in Teens
Your teen needs to know about the mental health effects of vaping.
Most of those effects are due to high dosing. Vaping allows you to inhale a lot of the drug at once. If your teen vapes cannabis, they can experience some side effects, especially if they fit into the high-risk category. Some of these side effects are:
Teens who vape nicotine also suffer from multiple side effects. If they get addicted to it and suddenly stop, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- Feeling sick
- Experiencing anxiety
- Having panic attacks
- Having sudden aggressive outbursts
Tell your teen about these risks and let them know what the signs are. Your teen should know that you care about their mental health enough to have this conversation. As always, it’s important to keep yourself calm to avoid driving your teen away.
Peer Pressure to Vape in Teens
Peer pressure is a dangerous thing. It can make a kid do something they know isn’t right. You must prepare your child to resist peer pressure to vape.
You are probably wondering how to talk to teens about peer pressure. It’s simple: all you have to do is be present and ask questions about their lives.
It’s common for teens to stop caring about what their parents think and start caring about what their peers think.
If your teen knows that you’re invested in their life, they’ll be more interested in your opinions than their peers’.
Tell your teen that they don’t have to do what their peer group does if it makes them uncomfortable. Make it clear that you’re a source of safety if they need to confide in you.
Parents Should Know the Signs of Teen Vaping
Noticing that your teen vapes cannabis isn’t very easy. The e-cig doesn’t produce a strong smell, so you can’t rely on your nose. But what you can notice is:
- Lack of concentration and the ability to focus on something
- Indifference about things they used to like
- Devices like USB sticks or pens that are always on them
- Cartridges or jars of oil in their room
The signs that your teen is vaping nicotine include:
- Seeing them go outside or to their room very often, but for a short amount of time
- Increased aggression
- Nervous behavior
- Devices like pens or USB sticks that are always on them
- Cartridges or small bottles of oil in their room
Get Treatment for Teen Substance Use Disorders
If you realize that your teen is vaping, act now. Don’t wait until their addiction becomes serious. Look for a professional and get your teen into treatment.
Waiting for too long can allow the addiction to do some permanent damage. Your teen’s development is at risk, after all.
Treatment centers can help them get rid of their addiction in a few different ways:
- Counseling: This type of treatment is usually the best choice for recovering vaping teens. It provides a safe emotional outlet and coping skills. It can be part of inpatient or outpatient treatment.
- Outpatient treatment: This treatment is best for teens who have jobs or other social responsibilities like going to school. The teen comes to daily recovery sessions (like group meetings) on their own.
- Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment is better for teens who have co-occurring disorders like depression or schizophrenia. It’s also a good choice for teens with complicated substance use, e.g. using multiple drugs together.
Don’t wait any longer to get help for your teen? If your teen needs professional help, seeking guidance from a treatment center in your area is in your best interest. If you’re unsure what treatment centers are available in your area, or which you should call, search through our directory today!
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