Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Is Vaping Bad for Teens?

Is your teen vaping? Vaping health risks are worse for teens

September 30, 2019

The Centers for Disease Control couldn’t be more clear about it: Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, is especially unsafe for teens. The high nicotine levels make vaping extremely addictive and, according to Penny Baker, LPC-S, teens are more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing. Baker is Director of Clinical Services for Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents. She has spent decades working with teens in the residential treatment industry.

Despite the warnings, vaping isn’t slowing them down. A U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory reports that since 2014 e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and seems to becoming even more popular.

“E-cigarette use among U.S. middle and high school students increased 900 percent during 2011-2015, before declining for the first time during 2015-2017,” the advisory said.

Then from 2017 to 2018 it went back up.

“In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigarettes,” surveys found.

Since 2006, Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP) has successfully treated more than a thousand adolescents and teens who were admitted to the therapeutic residential program exhibiting various maladaptive behaviors - including substance abuse that often begins with nicotine. "For teenagers, vaping has become a behavior that they become obsessive about, similar to drug use and other negative behavior," said Amy Moor, a licensed professional counselor at ERTP. "While I think vaping was created with a semi-positive intention to it, in practice it is becoming just as detrimental as any other negative behavior. It is a replacement and doesn't allow for people to address what is underneath leading to needing an escape," she said.


Is vaping bad for your lungs?

Electronic cigarettes heat liquid to produce aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. They can contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD) oils, and other substances and additives.

Lung damage associated with vaping affects adults too, but the CDC warns that in addition to lung damage, the highly addictive nicotine “can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.”

Some “pods” contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Most also release potentially toxic substances. Some devices have exploded, causing injuries. When dependence develops, withdrawal symptoms can occur after the user quits.

Vape juice flavors like cotton candy, strawberry, pina colada and ice cream can be particularly enticing to adolescents and pre-teens.

If teens argue that flavorings are safe in food, parents can explain that how additives interact with the stomach can be different from their effects on lungs. A butter flavoring called diacetyl has been linked to lung damage in factory workers who inhaled it, for example.

Ironically, even though e-cigarettes are seen as a way to help some people stop smoking tobacco cigarettes, “young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes,” the CDC found.

Of 530 cases of lung damage examined by the CDC:

  • Nearly three fourths (72 percent) of cases are male
  • 16 percent of cases are under 18 years

“In all, based on what we have to date, more than half of the cases are under 25 years of age,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat in a media briefing.

Due to the fact that the brain is undergoing massive changes during the teen years, nicotine use may rewire the brain, making it easier to get hooked on other substances and contribute to problems with concentration, learning and impulse control,” found the Partnership for Drug-Free kids.


Why do teens vape?

CDC interviews with teens found a variety of reasons:

  • Curiosity
  • They like the taste
  • Lower cost than conventional cigarettes
  • Easy to hide from parents
  • Social approval
  • Accessibility and convenience
  • A way to stop smoking
  • May circumvent indoor smoking restrictions


Is your teen vaping?

Look for these possible indicators:

  • Presence of vaping equipment or related product packaging
  • Unusual online purchases or packages in the mail
  • The scent is faint, but you may catch a whiff of flavoring like bubble gum or chocolate cake
  • Use of vaping lingo in text messages or on social media
  • Appearance and/or behavior changes
  • Devices that look like flash drives, e-juice bottles, pods (that contain e-juice) or product packaging
  • Gel jars that contain dabs, small tools to scoop dabs and cartridges that contain THC oil are signs of marijuana vaping
  • A smell with no clear source, such as bubble gum or chocolate cake


Vaping lingo

You may see vape lingo in text messages such as “atty” for an atomizer, “VG” for vegetable glycerin found in e-juice or “sauce” referring to e-juice.

Kids often brag about their vaping exploits on social media. Look for pictures on Instagram or YouTube or check their Twitter accounts.

E-cigarettes are also known as vapes, f-hookahs, vape pens and electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS.


Appearance and behavior changes

Like smoking, vaping marijuana can result in bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and thirst, increased appetite and shifts in behavior and mood.

Your child's friends or activities might change. Because some chemicals in e-juices dry mouth and nasal passages, they may drink more liquids or get nosebleeds. Some may develop a sensitivity to caffeine and may suddenly stop drinking energy drinks.


How can parents help?

Parents should look for chances to discuss vaping with their kids, such as when seeing advertisements or someone vaping in a public place. Listen instead of lecture, experts recommend. Establish clear expectations and resulting consequences.

“Over time, vaping can become habitual as it is used to address other needs such as relief from boredom and anxiety. Some kids also become addicted to nicotine and continue vaping to avoid withdrawal symptoms,” said the drug-free partnership.

“It helps to understand why your child is vaping by asking questions like: ‘What do you enjoy about vaping?’ or ‘How does vaping make you feel?’ Answers to these questions highlight your child’s needs that can be addressed in a healthier way.”

Younger teens might benefit from role-playing refusal responses in social settings. Ask how your child would handle such an offer, and suggest responses like “I’m not interested” said in a confident manner.

Parents can suggest that young teens text them an “X” in an uncomfortable situation. Parents can respond by texting that something came up and they need to return home or be picked up. "The important thing is to keep a dialogue going. Don't put yourself on the 'other team.' Make sure your child knows that you are on their side," Baker said.

Teens who argue that their parents themselves smoke can respond by explaining that they wish they had never started and how difficult it is to stop.


The Surgeon General’s office offers advice for parents of teens that vape:

Learn more about teen vaping and the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes as well as the risks of all forms of e-cigarette use for young people.

  • Set a good example by being tobacco-free.
  • Adopt tobacco-free rules, including e-cigarettes, in your home and vehicle.
  • Talk to your child or teen about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them. It’s never too late.
  • Set up an appointment with your child’s health care provider so that they can hear from a medical professional about the health risks of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Everyone – from teachers to parents to health professionals – has a role in protecting America’s youth from harmful e-cigarettes, the nation’s top doctor says.