This complete guide for parents includes the latest information on teens and vaping, including facts about vaping for children, whether vaping is safe for teens, and how to tell if a child is vaping.
What Is Vaping?
Vaping refers to the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, or vapour, created by a vaping device. A vaping device includes a mouthpiece, a battery, a heating component, and a cartridge that contains the e-liquid or e-juice. The e-liquid contains the drug being inhaled—either nicotine or THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, combined with flavourings and other chemicals.
The battery in the vaping device powers the heating component, which heats up the e-liquid, also known as vape juice. As a result, the device produces water vapour. Users inhale this vapour into their lungs. Types of vaping devices include the following:
- E-cigarettes, which resemble traditional cigarettes—also called e-cigs, hookah pens, vape pens, or ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems);
- Advanced personal vaporizers (also known as “mods”), customized by the user; and
- Vape pens, which look like large fountain pens.
Is Vaping Bad for Teens?
Many people think the smoke produced by vaping is harmless water vapour. In fact, vape “smoke” contains:
- Nicotine, shown to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
- Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs;
- A Harvard study found that the vaping flavouring chemical called diacetyl is linked to a condition called “popcorn lung,” which causes scarring and obstruction in the lungs;
- Cancer-causing chemicals; and
- Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.
Teen Vaping Health Risks
The health risks of teen vaping are both short and long-term. Increased likelihood of cancer may prove to be one of the most significant long-term vaping health risks. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found substantially increased levels of five carcinogenic compounds in the urine of teenagers who vape. In addition, a study found that some common chemicals used to flavour vape juice could damage endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels and lymph vessels.
Along with these long-term health risks of teen vaping, there are also short-term effects of vaping, including:
- Nicotine dependence, which can lead to disruptions in brain development and chemistry;
- Increase in shortness of breath, coughing, and fevers;
- Acid reflux; and
- Higher likelihood of contracting lipoid pneumonia, which occurs when fatty substances are inhaled into the lungs.
Why Do Teens Vape?
Why is vaping so popular among teens and young adults? There are several reasons:
- Teens see friends and family members use them;
- Companies design packaging to enhance the appeal of vaping for teens. For example, vape cartridges are available in candy, fruit, and dessert flavours, like doughnut, apple pie, chocolate, cherry, “Belgian waffle,” “strawberry milk,” watermelon, bubble gum, etc. And labels of “vape sauce” resemble candy wrapper designs, like Jolly Ranchers and Blow Pops. In addition, companies promote vaping with campaigns that appeal to teens;
- Young people believe that vaping products are safer than other forms of nicotine consumption, such as cigarettes. While vaping aerosol doesn’t include all the contaminants in tobacco smoke, it does contain many dangerous chemicals;
- Vaping is easier to hide from parents than smoking. They don’t give off as much smoke as traditional cigarettes. Also, unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are odourless or have a sweet smell. Plus, vaping devices often resemble pens or electronic equipment, so it’s easier for teens to use them without getting caught. For example, Juul designers wanted to make their product appear as if it was a flash drive; and
- Vaping products are cheaper and easier to acquire than traditional tobacco products.
Is Vaping a Gateway Drug?
Multiple studies show that teen vaping, whether nicotine or marijuana vaping, primes the brain for more drug use and addiction—the definition of a gateway drug. One study followed 2,500 ninth-grade students from 10 Los Angeles high schools. Those who had used e-cigarettes at least once were more likely to start smoking cigarettes within the next year. Moreover, teens who vape are taking in even more nicotine than they would get from traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette users can buy extra-strength cartridges that have a higher concentration of nicotine. Or they can increase the e-cigarette’s voltage so they inhale larger amounts of vapour. In fact, some e-liquid products contain nearly 50 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre of liquid—more than four times the milligrams of nicotine in a cigarette.
Vaping and vaping accessories are marketed to attract teens and young adults, and the research shows that it’s working.
How to tell if a child Is vaping
Because e-cigarettes do not have a smoky odour, it’s harder to tell when teens are using them. However, there are other ways to identify teen vaping in your home. Some of the signs your kid is vaping include:
- Bloodshot eyes;
- Increased thirst, because vaping dehydrates the mouth and throat;
- Adding extra salt or spices to food as a result of “vaper’s tongue”—a reduction in the ability to perceive flavour;
- Chronic cough due to the irritated lung tissue;
- Vaping paraphernalia in their room—for example, items that look like USB drives or other electronic devices;
- Sweet scents from the flavoured vape liquid;
- Being secretive and intensely protective of their privacy; and
- Irritability and moodswings as a result of withdrawal symptoms.
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2018;38:1607–1615. Pediatrics. 2018 Apr; 141(4). Pediatrics. 2017 Feb. 139(2).