Teens and Vaping: 9 Things Parents Need to Know

  • Young Caucasian teenage girl vaping with friend
    E-cigarette use is common among middle and high school students.
    Nearly 1 out of 3 high school seniors has tried vaping in the past year, according to a 2017 study by the University of Michigan. Although e-cigarette manufacturers, such as Juul, say their products are intended to help adult smokers quit smoking, use among teens and tweens is rampant. In fact, the United States Surgeon General officially declared youth vaping an epidemic in December 2018. Here’s what you need to know about “Juuling,” including what vaporizers look like and how to talk with your teens about vaping.

  • Close-up of man's hand holding vape pen and cigarette
    1. Vaping and smoking aren’t the same.
    Traditional cigarettes are made of dried tobacco, paper and dozens of chemicals; people light them on fire and inhale the resulting smoke. E-cigarettes (also called vape pens, atomizers or vaporizers) do not include any tobacco and do not produce smoke. Instead, vape devices use an internal heating element to heat up nicotine liquid or juice (also called e-juice, e-liquid or vape sauce). The heated juice creates vapor, which the user inhales. People who vape are not exposed to the tar that eventually coats the lungs of cigarette smokers, and vape mist does not contain as many chemicals as cigarette smoke.

  • Group of young Hispanic teenage boys vaping outdoors
    2. Juuling is not a safe alternative to smoking.
    Juuling—the term many teens use to describe vaping—is less harmful, in some ways, than cigarette smoking, but it’s still harmful to overall health. Most vape juice contains high levels of nicotine, a highly addictive drug that stimulates the nervous system and can cause long-term medical problems, include heart disease, blood clots, and stomach ulcers. Nicotine can also negatively affect brain development. Vaping also dramatically increases an individual’s chances of becoming a smoker. Teens who vape are almost four times as likely as their peers to begin smoking cigarettes, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

  • Vape pen next to coffee mug on same table as cat
    3. It’s easy to hide a vape habit.
    Even though most vape juices are flavored, the resulting mist doesn’t have a strong smell, so a simple whiff of a child’s clothes or hair won’t reveal evidence of vaping. Vape mist doesn’t leave a lingering odor either, so it’s possible for a child to vape in a bedroom or bathroom without leaving behind obvious evidence. Vaporizers, especially those made by the company Juul, are small, sleek and easy to hide. Some look like guitar picks or other common objects. Juul e-cigarettes can be mistaken for a USB flash drive.

  • Two young Caucasian teenage girls vaping in school parking lot
    4. Vaping is illegal for anyone under 18.
    In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration obtained regulatory power over e-cigarettes. Vaping became and remains illegal for anyone under the age of 18 years of age. In some states, individuals cannot legally purchase and use e-cigarettes until age 21. However, despite increased regulation, minors continue to get their hands (and lips) on vaporizers and vape juice. Almost 21% of high school students and 5% of middle school students use e-cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

  • Close-up of young Caucasian woman vaping or smoking e-cigarette
    5. Most kids don’t realize vaping can be addictive.
    A lot of tweens and teens mistakenly think vape juice is “only” flavored liquid. According to one study, 52% of surveyed high school seniors thought flavoring was the only ingredient in vape mist. While it’s possible to purchase e-juice that does not contain nicotine, most vape liquid contains high concentrations of nicotine, a highly addictive drug. And unfortunately, young brains are particularly prone to addiction because they’re not yet fully developed.

  • Teenage Hispanic girl with older African American female doctor getting heart checked
    6. Vaping can damage the heart and brain.
    Nicotine is a stimulant; it increases heart rate and blood pressure. Regular exposure to nicotine via vaping can stress the cardiovascular system and cause heart disease. Nicotine also disrupts the development of the parts of the brain that control attention and learning, which can lead to difficulty in school. Nicotine affects the brain’s pleasure and reward centers as well. Some evidence suggests that regular vaping may increase the risk of developing an addiction to other illicit substances.

  • Young Caucasian teenage boy drinking from school water fountain
    7. Nose bleeds and increased thirst can be symptoms of vaping.
    Because vaping dries the mouth and nasal passage, individuals who vape may develop nose bleeds and unusual thirst. In some cases, teens who vape develop a sensitivity to caffeine. If your caffeine-guzzling teen goes cold turkey, pay attention. Many teens purchase vaping supplies online, so package deliveries and credit card charges could signal a vaping habit. Look for vaping images and lingo (such as “sauce” and “atty,” which can mean atomizer, or vaporizer) in text messages and social media postings.

  • African American female teenager talking to mother in kitchen
    8. Lecturing teens about the dangers of vaping is ineffective.
    Open-ended conversations can build understanding and trust; parent-driven lectures will likely be met with eye-rolling. Instead of launching into a litany of all the ways vaping can damage a child’s health and life, ask curious questions and listen to the answers. Start by asking your child if a lot of students at school vape. Then, you can ask what they think about vaping. If your child says something like “It’s not that bad,” don’t pounce with facts. Instead, ask for more info. When you understand what your child thinks, you’re in a much better position to offer useful guidance.

  • Mother with teenage son shaking doctor's hand in waiting room
    9. You can help your child quit vaping.
    Although research has shown that nicotine patches can help teens break a nicotine addiction, the patches are not available over-the-counter to anyone under the age of 18. If your child is interested in trying a patch, you’ll have to schedule an appointment with a physician and get a prescription. Experts who have worked with children who vape suggest scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider who is experienced in addiction treatment. You can find additional tools to help your teen kick the habit at teen.smokefree.gov.

Teen Vaping & E-Cigarette Use | What Parents Should Know About Juul

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults. U.S. Surgeon General. https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_SGR_Full_Report_non-508.pdf
  2. Surgeon General’s Advisory on E-cigarette Use Among Youth. U.S. Surgeon General. https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/surgeon-generals-advisory-on-e-cigarette-use-among-youth-2018.pdf
  3. 5 Truths You Need to Know About Vaping. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_heart/know_your_risks/5-truths-you-need-to-know-about-vaping
  4. Teen Vaping: What You Need to Know. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/teen-vaping-what-you-need-to-know/
  5. How to Talk with Your Kids About Vaping. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. https://drugfree.org/parent-blog/how-to-talk-with-your-kids-about-vaping-guide/
  6. Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students – United States, 2011-2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6745a5.htm?s_cid=mm6745a5_w
  7. Vaping, Juuling, Dabbing. Alan Woolf, MD, MPH, Director Region 1 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Boston Children’s Hospital. https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/FinalAbridgedVapingJuulingDabbingECHOMay2018-jap.pdf
  8. Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Feb 21
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