Teen vaping: spotting vaping & helping them quit

Learn how to identify signs of teen vaping and discover effective ways to help them quit. Allen Carr provides expert guidance and support.

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How do you tell if your teen is vaping? Vaping is safe isn’t it so what are the risks if my teen vapes or is thinking about vaping?

Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS) or more commonly called e-cigarettes and vaping are relatively new products and often marketed as safe but are they safe to use? And are they harmful for teens to use? What are the risks if my teen vapes or is thinking about vaping?

There are so many worrying things about vaping, not least that kids can hide it from their parents so easily so how do you tell if you teen is vaping?

That said, as a teenage smoker, whilst you might have been terrified of getting caught by your parents, it didn’t stop you from doing it; You just got better at hiding it.

Telling someone they can’t or shouldn’t do something generally doesn’t work.

Showing someone there’s no good reason to do something, does.

This page will discuss teen vaping, answer you questions and show you how to help you to help your kids to be free and quit vaping. Just click the link below to go to the section you are interested in:

Teen vaping statistics & facts

E-cigarettes have been on sale for over 10 years but in recent years there has been a rapid increase in adolescents vaping in the USA.

% of US teenagers who reported any vaping during the last 30 days

2022 percentage of US teenagers who reported any vaping during the last 30 days

Source: University of Michigan Monitoring the Future survey4

% of UK teenagers who reported any vaping during the last 30 days

share of UK teenagers who reported any vaping during the last 30 days

Source: ASH10

A few quick statistics and facts

  • In 2019 9% of US 13-14 year olds had vaped nicotine in 2017 it was only 3.5%4
  • In 2022 21% of UK teens had vaped in 2013 it was 4.5%10
  • Children and adolescents who vape are more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes 12
  • Only 40% of parents were aware that their children vaped against 70% for smoking9
  • The nicotine content of one JUUL pod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes26
  • The nicotine content of one EFL bar is equivalent to 48/50 cigarettes or two and a half packs of cigarettes6
  • Vaping poses a risk to lungs12 – In 2016 nearly 200 e-cigarette users developed severe lung disease in 22 states across USA
  • Vaping often contains nicotine even when the juice is nicotine free13 which is highly addictive and affects brain development particularly in young people7

Click here more vaping statistics and facts

What are teens vaping?

Teenagers are vaping in growing numbers. In fact in 2023, Dr Mike McKean, vice-president of policy for the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, said vaping was becoming an “epidemic” in the UK among teenagers even though it is illegal before the age of 1824.

In fact 40% of teenagers aged 18 have vaped up from 30% in 202110.

Part of the reason for this is that vaping liquid, known as vaping juice comes in many flavours  and unsurprisingly in 2022 the most popular juices for adolescents (ages 12 to 17) and young adults (18 to 24) are:

  • UK – fruit (60%), chocolate/desserts/sweet (17%), Energy drink or soft drink (5%), menthol (3%)10 .
  • US – fruit (58%), menthol (54%), candy/dessert/other sweets (30%), mint (28%)27

In 2023, the disposable vape was the preferred product in UK at 69% of all teen vapes (in 2021 it was 8%)10

In US is is Puff Bar 15%, Vuse 13%, Hyde 6% and SMOK 4%. More than half like the UK used disposable e-cigarettes28

Previous research from early 2019 showed that the preference was for candy and fruit-flavoured products2.

Part of the change was due to the banning of certain flavours but this has not stopped the rise in vaping nor the fact that most vaping juices include nicotine / tobacco and many include marijuana.

% of US students who said they vaped during the last 30 days, 2018

Source: University of Michigan Monitoring the Future survey4

The vaping devices are electronic products that heat a liquid to produce a vapour/smoke. They come in many shapes and sizes from looking like cigarettes, to USB flash drives (JUUL), to large tank system devices.

In the past year there has been significant growth in disposable vapes or elf bars and it is these that are now most popular among children per Dr Mike McKean24. This has led the UK Government debate whether to ban highly flavoured vapes and elf bars due to the concerns of creating addiction in young people.

Why do teens vape (use e-cigarettes)?

The reason many US adolescents start vaping is because of the flavours1-4 of which there are now an estimated 16,000 available.  Many US teens also report that due to the widespread advertising they are curious about the products and want to try them7.

In the UK in 2022 the main reason was “to give it a try” (65%) presumably due to the widespread marketing. The next highest response “other people use them and I join in” (11%) and “I like the flavours” (10%)10

Most e-cigarettes liquid contains nicotine which is highly addictive.

In fact, vaping is now more popular than traditional cigarettes with 2.1 million middle and high school students in the US using the product in 2017. In the UK the number of students smoking is 4% and vaping is 3%10

Should I let my teen vape? What you need to know.

E-cigarettes are illegal to be sold to under 18s but they can be ordered online so they are readily available as are the vaping liquids or juices.

E-cigarettes very often contain nicotine in the juice and those that do not are often a gateway to the nicotine variety. In fact 99% of the e-cigarettes sold in the USA contained Nicotine5 and according to JUUL’s website the nicotine content of one JUULpod is equivalent to one packet of cigarettes.

Nicotine exposure in adolescents can harm brain development such as those parts that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control and may affect mental health7.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and in fact it has been reported to be harder to quit than cocaine. Adolescents are more susceptible to addiction than adults because their brains are still developing. It may also increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs6. It is therefore important to help them to stop vaping cartridges with flavouring only so that they do not move on to nicotine flavours and the challenges of becoming free from nicotine addiction.

In January 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies and concluded that e-cigarettes [vaping] cause health risks5.

Nicotine free vaping is safe though isn’t it?

Some vaping liquids or juices are sold as nicotine free however research has shown that these often contain nicotine13Nicotine is highly addictive and even if the juice did not contain nicotine the liquids contain chemicals which can be harmful. See below:

What is in vaping liquid?

  • Flavourings – There are thousands of flavours all with different additives and chemicals. One that was used until recently was diacetyl. This is used to create a buttery flavour such as used in popcorn, custard and sweet dessert flavours. High levels of exposure to diacetyl can lead to the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans also known as “popcorn lung”. It is banned in the UK & EU but is still available in flavours in the rest of the world14
  • Propylene Glycol (PG) – This is used to create artificial smoke and fog on stage and on screen. It is also an ingredient in antifreeze and is known to cause irritation to the lungs and eyes and may cause issues for people with asthma and emphysema. Pregnant women are at risk of developing toxicity if they are exposed to large amounts of PG because they have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase an enzyme that is needed to breakdown PG15,16,17
  • Glycerin – This has no colour or smell but gives a sweet taste.

Furthermore the vapour once heated contains:

  • Ultrafine particles – these can be inhaled deep into the lungs and may exacerbate conditions such as asthma and emphysema and could lead to a heart attack23,24
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – these are created as a by product of heating the vapour and can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, and can damage the liver, kidney and nervous system17
  • Cancer causing toxins – These include Acetaldehyde (MS), Benzene (SS), Cadmium (MS), Formaldehyde (MS,SS), Isoprene (SS), Lead (MS), Nickel (MS), Nicotine (MS, SS), N- Nitrosonornicotine (MS, SS), Toluene (MS, SS)20,21
  • Propylene Glycol (PG) – Research has shown that heating propylene glycol changes its chemical composition, producing small amounts of propylene oxide, a known cancerous toxin22
  • Heavy metals – these are known to cause respiratory distress and disease and include nickel, tin and lead23

Read more about the side effects of nicotine vaping.

How to stop your teen from starting to vape (use e-cigarettes)

The single biggest factor appears to be to raise children in a smoke and vape free home.

If the parents smoke or vape it normalises the behaviour in children who particularly when they are young look up to parents as their role models.

This increases the likelihood that the child will go on to vape and smoke9 Read more about Vaping around kids and is it safe?

When children are young, if a smoke/vape free home is coupled with positive discussions about the issues and downsides of vaping (smoking, drugs etc.) it has been shown to reduce the likelihood that they will start smoking or vaping9 (read about how to help your teen quit vaping).

Given that they are exposed at younger and younger ages now the earlier you can speak with them the better as the marketing often makes it appear safe and the flavours appealing.

Is my teen vaping? – How to tell if your teen is vaping (using e-cigarettes)?

A 2020 study found that only 40% of parents or guardians were aware that their child was vaping compared with 70% for smoking9.

6 signs that you teen is vaping

  1. Unusual items in their things

    Vaping devices have many parts including detachable tanks, batteries, chargers and some are like USB devices (JUUL). If you see something unusual or unfamiliar search on the internet for vaping parts or talk to other parents to check what they might be. These are the most obvious signs of vaping.

  2. Sweet smells

    73% of teens prefer fruit flavour vaping so smelling sickly sweet fruit aromas is likely to be a strong sign. Read more about what teens are vaping

  3. Changes in taste or more thirsty

    Vaping dries the mouth and so an increase in drinking is a potential sign. Also dry mouths changes the taste of food making them have less flavour so if they are adding salt, spices, sauces more than usual it could be a sign.

  4. Shortness of breath

    As with smoking it is thought that vaping affects the lungs and will lead to shortness of breath. If they are sporty this will become clear during training and matches.

  5. Nosebleeds

    Vaping also dries out the nostrils as the vaping gas is exhaled. This can lead to an increase in nosebleeds.

  6. Changes in their behaviour

    During the teen years they will inevitably change , maybe getting angry, frustrated and tearful. However, most vaping juices contain nicotine and many contain cannabis – taking nicotine, getting addicted to nicotine as a child affects emotional control, decision making and impulses and so will change the pattern of behaviour of your child over a sustained period.

How to help your teen to quit vaping

  1. Stay calm, don’t shame

    The teenage years are often a difficult and confusing time for young people due to the expectations and changes in their bodies. So stay calm and don’t shame them if you find them vaping.

  2. Talk to them

    The best approach is always to be calm, engage them and listen to them. Use non-judgemental questions like “I keep hearing about vaping. Do you see many people doing that at school?”, “What do you think about it?”. Also show them that you understand and empathise e.g. say “Wow, that does sound difficult”

  3. Give them the facts

    During the conversation try to give them the facts even if they say you are wrong! Giving them facts from a reliable source will sink in but be prepared for them to say something like “We know that smoking is bad for you but vaping is fine and no risk”. Many kids don’t realise that vaping juice or JUUL pods contain nicotine and that it is as much as a pack of cigarettes6

  4. Help them see they are being manipulated

    They rebel against being told what to do so play that back to them by telling them how the vaping companies are manipulating them. It is why they add nicotine to the juice to get them addicted and buy more juice or JUULpods. The advertising makes it look sexy and attractive and safe but it isn’t really. Tell them that that they did the same thing in my day for cigarettes until it was banned.

  5. Find the right moment to talk

    This is probably the most difficult part because as you know a conversation can quickly escalate with tempers flaring. Clearly that will not help the situation so find a moment when they are more engaged with you. Maybe before you watch that sports match or after lunch (not before lunch when they are likely to be hangry!).

  6. Show trust

    You can’t dictate to them or they will rebel and resent you! Instead they need to feel that you are taking them seriously and they are not being treated as a child. Be firm regarding vaping but don’t lecture because they will not respond or listen. Often with teens they need to hear something and then fully take it in later that day. You may be tempted to test them with urine nicotine tests but this will not work. It will lead them to resent you and fight harder to do the thing that you are trying to help them to stop doing. Instead you have to trust them, keep talking and show you are there for them.

  7. Quitting

    They then need to quit. Quitting vaping can be as difficult as quitting smoking but with the right method it is easy. Quit vaping with Allen Carr’s Easyway

How to Quit Vaping

Final Thoughts

Vaping amongst teens is a growing issue with marketing aimed to encourage them to start and with flavours that will appeal to them. Many of their friends may already vape and they will believe it is safe but it isn’t.  The best action you can take is to talk openly with them and not smoke or vape yourself. Once they start vaping they will get addicted to nicotine and because it is so addictive it can appear very hard to be free but there is an easy way with Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Vaping. You may be interested in these articles:

Vaping Around Kids – Is it safe?

Vaping While Pregnant – What are the risks?

Vaping Statistics and Facts

Can Vaping Damage the Lungs?

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