Vaping and e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular and accessible over the last several years, especially among teenagers. Vaping can be concerning for many parents because there is often a lack of information or understanding about what vaping really is, how teens access them, and what to do if you find out your teen is vaping. We hope to break down some of the information for you and provide practical steps to support your teen if they are struggling with vaping.
What is vaping and how does it work?
Vaping is the term used for the use of electronic cigarettes to smoke tobacco. Vapes can also be used for smoking marijuana and have a cannabis oil in them that often contains a high level of THC (NPR, 2021). Unlike regular cigarettes, vapes are battery operated and produce an aerosol by heating a liquid containing nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals. The liquid then turns in a vapor which users inhale into their lungs through the vaping device.
The battery powered smoking devices have changed and evolved over the years. Some e-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, but this is more uncommon today. Many of the popular vaping devices used among teens today look like markers, usb drives, or pens. “Vape pen” is a commonly used term for describing vaping devices today.
Why is your teen vaping?
During the rise in popularity of vaping, many device manufacturers developed very attractive, teen-friendly marketing. Packaging of vaping devices are branded to look cool and trendy and more enticing to the teenage brain. A wide variety of flavors exist and many are fruity and candylike. In popular media and movies smoking has never really stopped being cool, just the way in which they smoke has changed to vaping.
It is important for parents to know that many teens believe vaping isn’t as dangerous as smoking regular cigarettes and some even believe there is no harm at all. They believe that the devices are full of mostly flavors and not the addictive and harmful substances.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the three most common reasons teens vape include:
- Because a friend or family member vapes
- The wide variety and availability of flavors (mint, candy, fruit, etc.)
- Belief that vaping is less harmful than other forms of tobacco
Once teens try vaping, they can very easily and quickly become addicted. Many teens are surprised at how they crave and need nicotine and have intense difficulty trying to quit. Teens not only become addicted to the substance, but also to the idea of vaping as a stress reliever. One popular myth among teens is that vaping reduces stress, which is appealing when school, relationships, and identity exploration can be especially confusing and stressful during this time of life. The action of vaping then becomes associated with relieving anxiety and stress and creates a harmful, addictive cycle of needing to vape in order to manage difficult emotions and situations.
Vaping does not relieve stress and in the long-term, creates more. According to the Truth Initiative, 90% of people who quit vaping felt less anxious, stressed, or depressed.
Another myth surrounding vaping, is the belief that it will help you have more fun and experience more pleasure. Yes, teens are often initially exposed to vaping in a social setting and it can feel exciting to try something new and different. However, vaping in and of itself does not create increased feelings of pleasure or excitement and the consequences of becoming addicted quickly outweigh that initial fun factor.
How to talk to your teen about vaping?
Approaching the topic of vaping without judgment is key to creating a space in which your teen is willing to talk about their vaping habit. If possible, try approaching the topic as a listener and learner, wanting to understand the “why” behind why your teen started vaping and continues to vape. This might give you clues to other action steps to take, such as providing more academic resources if they are stressed about school or beginning mental health therapy if they are having difficulty managing their emotions in healthy ways.
Taking a non-judgmental approach can be helpful in keeping communication open with your teen. When teens feel judged or disapproved of, this rarely helps them want to create change, but can actually have the opposite effect and may push them to hide their use from you more.
How can you help your teen to quit vaping?
It might be helpful to approach the topic of quitting vaping by focusing on more short-term consequences rather than long-term. Adolescent brains are wired to think more in the here and now, and fear tactics do not usually prove effective. Focusing on the immediate dangers or impacts, including the cost to keep up the habit and how quickly one can become addicted, are more beneficial than the long-term health effects.
When taking away something in a teen’s life, it is helpful to understand what need that behavior or action was meeting. If you take something away that was meeting a need in their life, it is best to replace it with something else. Healthy distractions, movement and exercise, positive support systems for accountability, and celebrating accomplishments on the quitting journey are all helpful, positive approaches to take. (Truth Initiative, 2023)
When should I contact a professional?
Your teen might need professional help if they express a desire to quit or reduce vaping and have not been successful and/or if vaping is impacting their functioning across multiple areas in their life (i.e. social relationships, school, sleep, etc.).
A licensed mental health professional who specializes in substance use is a good place to start. In a safe, supportive therapeutic environment your teen may be able to start exploring their “why” for vaping, as mentioned above, and then get practical support for quitting.
If you have concerns about your teen’s physical health related to vaping, it is best to seek medical advice from a physician.
Remember, you are not alone. Most teenagers have been exposed to vaping at some point in their lives. With the right help and support, your teen can quit vaping and develop healthier ways to cope with difficult things in their life.