safety, teenager

Vaping: What’s the Big Deal? It’s Safe, Right?


Nowadays you don’t see teenagers smoking cigarettes much anymore. Ask them and they will tell you that smoking is nasty. Teens understand that cigarettes cause cancer along smokingstinkswith yellow teeth and bad breath. Cigarettes are expensive and hard to buy with all the regulations. Of course, hiding the smoky smell from parents or teachers makes cigarette smoking that much trickier.


Using e-cigarettes (vaping) though is different. There’s no stinky smell, in fact with thousands of flavors to choose from you can have an e-cig that tastes and smells like cotton candy or banana bread or a gummi bear, just to ecigname a few. Getting e-cigs is easy: you can buy them online if you have any trouble getting them from your local vape shop or drug store. In Michigan, there are no statewide laws that prohibit selling e-cigs to minors (although there is a federal law that prevents it—state law is essential for enforcement). E-cigs are cheaper too; whether you get a disposable one or a rechargeable/refillable one, the cost is a lot less than it would cost to get the same amount of nicotine delivered in the form of traditional cigarettes.


Vaping is perceived as a healthier alternative than traditional smoking because you don’t inhale the tobacco leaf byproducts that end up chronically inflaming and irritating the mouth, trachea, and lungs which can lead to cancer. That is true. Vaping wins on that point. Vaping does however require inhaling chemicals including things like formaldehyde which probably isn’t so great in the long run but since we don’t have long term data yet, compared to what we know about smoking tobacco, vaping is probably better from that standpoint.

Just because it’s not as bad a cigarette does that mean it’s ok for a teenager? Beyond the huge issue of nicotine addiction and withdrawal, does nicotine affect the maturing brain?


Early on, nicotine makes the person using it feel good. Really good. Relaxed and alert, calm and happy, and nicotine decreases appetite—a plus for a lot of teenagers. Blood pressure and heart rate decrease too and most frequent nicotine users have a dampening of their senses so things don’t seem as intense, stressful, or overwhelming. On the flip side, things won’t seem as joyful either.

As they continue to use nicotine, teenagers, whose brains are in the midst of active adaptation as they learn and think in new ways all the time, have a structural and chemical response to nicotine which often happens after a single exposure. Adults have this same structural and chemical adaptation occur in the brain but because their brains are more firmly hardwired and less flexible it takes longer for these changes to become ingrained. Addiction to nicotine occurs extremely quickly in adolescents despite the teen’s magical thinking that they ‘are in control’ or ‘could quit anytime’ or ‘can vape a few times, and even though other people may get hooked, that would never happen to me.’


Once using nicotine, even if it’s not daily, the brain changes that are seen in teens are striking. Unlike adults, several studies have shown that teens who use nicotine struggle with attention, working memory, organization, and decision making compared to teens who are not using nicotine. Other studies have shown that teens who use nicotine are at greater risk of mental health issues in early adulthood as well as other substance abuse as they get older. These changes persist even when nicotine is stopped. The structural changes are permanent and addiction is reinstated with ease when nicotine is reintroduced.nicotinewithdrawal

For adults and teens alike, nicotine use leads to addiction which results in the loss of the positive effects and instead a sense of ‘normal’ when they have access to enough nicotine and withdrawal symptoms of cravings, depressed mood, irritability, frustration, anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness when they don’t. It’s no wonder that quitting is so difficult!


One in four teenagers has tried vaping.

66% of teens don’t even realize that nicotine is in their e-cig—they think it’s just flavoring which increases the risk of addiction.

Once a teen has vaped 6 times they are six times more likely to initiate cigarette smoking within the next 16 months.

30% of teens who tried vaping went on to smoke cigarettes regularly within 6 months compared to 8% on non-vaping teens.

Boys are twice as likely as girls to try e-cigs.

The vaping devices can be used to aerosolize marijuana, hookah or other substances.

The refill packs/liquid is concentrated nicotine and can be poisonous if ingested by younger children.

Vaping has not been shown to be an effective strategy to quit smoking cigarettes.


Parents have the opportunity to influence their kids’ views on views on nicotine, vaping, and even though you feel that you aren’t heard, your voice matters.

Here are some conversations starters to break the ice with your adolescent. By asking open-ended or somewhat leading but reverse psychology questions you might be able to find out what they really think.

What’s the big deal about vaping?

Why do you think the teachers/principal at school are making a big deal out of it?

What are the kids’ favorite flavors?

Is there anything else in there besides the flavoring?

How do the kids who vape do in school? How often do they do it?

Why do you think they do it?

Why not smoke cigarettes?

What about getting hooked on the nicotine? Do the kids worry about that?

Keep the conversation going if you can or take a break and bring it up again. An effective way to help kids understand that their brains are different than an adult’s brain is to give an example of something they learned (like using a social media platform or an instrument or how to do their makeup or something academic or sports related) and how long it took you to understand it when they tried to get you to do it or understand it. Since their brains can learn and absorb things so well, they can also adapt to nicotine quickly and become dependent on it since nicotine causes structural changes in the brain much more quickly than it does for adults.

Keep trying and keep bringing up the conversation. It’s worth the effort.


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