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What is Vaping?  How Common is it?

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as vapor, produced by a vape or e-cigarette.  Vapes and e-cigarettes are the same thing, though youth tend to use “vapes.”  Vaping has become more popular among teens than regular cigarettes, especially given that vaping devices can be used for anything from highly-concentrated nicotine flavors like mango, blueberry, or tutti frutti, to potent concentrates of THC (the chemical compound in marijuana that produces the high).  The most current U.S. use data available (from the Monitoring the Future 2018 Survey Results via the National Institute on Drug Abuse) indicates that in the past year:

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In Clay County alone, reported last 30-day use of vaping among 6th to 12th graders jumped from 7.7% in 2016 to 11.1% in 2018 (Missouri Student Survey data).  According to the same survey, the Missouri state average for 6th to 12th graders vaping within the last 30 days in 2018 stands was 15.3%.  The next Missouri Student Survey data will come out in 2020, and so far, it looks as if this trend is likely to get worse before it gets better.

What are the Risks to Youth?


There are several risks to vaping for teens. Below are a few major ones for parents to be concerned about:


Vaping Poses Risks to Your Child’s Brain

“The part of the brain that’s responsible for decision making and impulse control is not yet fully developed during adolescence. Young people are more likely to take risks with their health and safety, including use of nicotine and other drugs. Youth and young adults are also uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning.”  – U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, M.D.

Young People Under Age 25 are More Easily Addicted

“How does the nicotine in e-cigarettes affect the brain?  Until about age 25, the brain is still growing. Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells. Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs such as cocaine.”  – U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, M.D.

Vaping is Linked to Other Risky Behaviors

“E-cigarette use among youth and young adults is strongly linked to the use of other tobacco products, such as regular cigarettes, cigars, hookah, and smokeless tobacco.  Some evidence suggests that e-cigarette use is linked to alcohol use and other substance use, such as marijuana. And certain e-cigarette products can be used to deliver other drugs like marijuana.” – U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, M.D.

Vaping Puts Youth at Risk for COVID-19

Although youth are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults, the recent findings from a national sample of adolescents and young adults show that vaping and cigarette use are significant underlying risk factors for COVID-19.  

In a meta analysis of six studies, the findings concluded that the risk of smoking increases four times if a teen vapes versus a teen that does not. In another study of more than 2,000 10th graders, researchers found that one in five teens who reported a regular vaping habit at the start of the study smoked traditional cigarettes at least three times a month by the end of the study period. Another 12% of routine vapers smoked at least one day a month. By comparison, less than 1% of students who didn’t try vaping reported smoking even one day a month at the end of the study.

It’s Not Their Fault – Vapes are Being Marketed to Our Youth

With lots of flavors available for vaping liquids, as well as the variety of colors and discreetly-sized devices available that charge just like cell phones, it’s clear that vaping products are often marketed to teens. One of the slang terms for vaping, known as JUULing (“jeweling”), comes from the JUUL brand device that looks more like a flash drive as opposed to a vaping device.  Read more about JUUL’s early marketing tactics towards youth (Forbes, November 2018).  Vaping is also often sold as a “safer” alternative to cigarettes, and some teens are under the false assumption that just because e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco they’re safe for teens to use.

In fact, many youth are under the false impression that they are just vaping flavored water, decreasing the perception that vaping is harmful.  With these low perceptions of harm, teens get hooked on vaping for many reasons, including trying to deal with stress, depression, and anxiety, or just because they’re bored or curious.

What Can Parents Do?

Set yourself up for success by creating a safe, open and comfortable relationship to talk to your child.  This takes time and practice, but starting early and having these harder talks more often will let your child know you care about their health and safety, and that you are speaking from a place of concern, love, and support.

Make it clear to your child that you don’t approve of them vaping or using e-cigarettes, but be curious and open-minded about their experiences.  It’s easier to start a conversation about vaping by asking what they’ve heard about it at school or if they’ve seen other kids vaping than to immediately interrogate them about if they’ve ever vaped.  Ask them what they think about vaping.  Their answer may surprise you.  It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture.


Look for the Warning Signs that your child may be vaping: 

– Vaping equipment or related product packaging:  See something you don’t recognize in the trash?  Is your child carrying an unfamiliar device?  Ask about it, and get familiar with what vapes and their e-juices look like.

– Unfamiliar online purchases or packages:  Today, many youth buy vapes and e-juices online, so if there’s unfamiliar charges on a card or odd-looking packages coming to your home, it’s time to ask questions.

– Pleasant smell:  Youth are more drawn to fruity or sweet flavors in vapes than flavors that mimic tobacco.  By design, the more discreet vaping products don’t produce a lot of aerosol or scent.  The smell is also faint, but if you catch an aroma of bubble gum or watermelon, it might be a sign that someone is vaping nearby.

– Increased thirst or nose bleeds:  Vaping removes hydration from the skin of the mouth and throat, leaving a dry, flat palate.  If you see your child increasing their liquid consumption (and urinating more), this may be a sign of vaping.  Just like vaping dries the mouth, it dries the skin of the nose too.  When the nose is too dry, it can bleed, which might be another clue.

– Decreased caffeine use:  The combination of vaping nicotine and drinking caffeine can cause anxiety and severe mood swings. Many vape users will decrease their caffeine intake to avoid these side effects.

If you think your child is vaping (as angry or frustrated as you feel), keep reminding yourself to speak and listen from a place of love, support and concern. Explain to them that young people who use nicotine or THC products in any form, including in vapes, are uniquely at risk for long-lasting effects. Because these substances affect the development of the brain’s reward system, continued use can lead to addiction (the likelihood of addiction increases considerably for those who start young), as well as other health problems.

You want your child to be as healthy as possible. Find out why vaping might be attractive to your child, and work with them to replace it with a healthier behavior.  There is also cessation help available specifically for teens at My Life My Quit.


Brain Development for Teens:

The Reward Circuit:  How the Brain Responds to Natural Rewards and Drugs:

The Swiss Cheese Model of Drug Addiction:


Make the Parent Up Prom Commitment

Complete the survey to win $500 for your teen’s after prom party!