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Is Vape A Drug?: The Top 8 Answers To Your Questions About Vaping

November 12, 2021
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Table of Contents

Young male in red hoodie vaping smoking, exhales thick vapor, isolated rear view-vaping

#1. Is Vaping Common Among Teens?

Vaping is relatively common among both middle and high school students. 

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, “more than 2 million U.S. middle school and high school e-cigarette users used e-cigarettes in 2021, and almost 85 percent of youths using e-cigarettes used flavored products.”

While “vape” itself is not necessarily a drug, vaping products often contain harmful substances, like nicotine and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). These substances can have a negative impact on your teenager’s physical health and brain development.

Teens might resort to vaping for a number of reasons, like peer pressure, experimenting, and coping with stress.

Adolescence can be challenging for teens. They are under a lot of pressure to fit in, start romantic relationships, focus on school, and make decisions about their futures. Sometimes, teens use vaping to handle the stress of transitioning to adulthood.

You might have a challenging time knowing if your teen is vaping. Due to the shapes of vaping devices and the odors of e-liquids, teens might prefer vaping to smoking tobacco or marijuana because they can disguise vaping more easily.

Woman holding Juul e-cig-vaping

#2. Is There A Difference Between E-cigarettes And Vape Pens?

Vape pens and electronic cigarettes (or “e-cigarettes”) are the same, though these products come in many different forms.

Vaping devices and e-cigarette products come in many different forms. You might hear different names; however, they all essentially work the same way. Vaping devices vaporize an e-liquid, which contains flavors and additives, along with nicotine, THC, or both.

Some common names for e-cigarette products include:

  • E-hookahs
  • Vape pens
  • Juul pods
  • E-cigs

Vaping devices are electronic nicotine delivery systems, which might also include THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These products contain a battery, a mouthpiece, a heating element, and a cartridge or pod for the e-liquid.

Young women smoking electronic cigarette.

#3. How Do You Know If Your Teenager Is Vaping?

You can know if your teenager is using e-cigarettes, or vaping, by looking for the following signs:

  • Vaping can dry the mouth, nose, and sinuses.
    • Your teen might be more thirsty than usual.
    • They might have nosebleeds from dry sinuses.
    • They could also have a loss of taste and smell due to vaping, and they might put more salt and spices on their food than usual.
  • Tobacco products can cause nicotine cravings, leading to irritability, anxiety, and difficulty focusing until your teen gets their “fix.”
  • Vaping products often have scents and flavors, including fruits, desserts, and candies. If you smell these scents on your teen or in their room, they might be vaping.
  • You might find vaping devices or parts in your home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published “E-cigarette, or Vaping, Products Visual Dictionary” to help parents identify vaping devices.
    • Vaping pens and electronic cigarettes can look like:
      • Regular cigarettes
      • Writing pens or highlighters
      • Flash drives
      • Smartwatches
      • Cell phone components
      • Some vaping devices fit into hoodies and backpacks

You might also notice a change in your child’s overall health and wellbeing, especially breathing and lung issues.

New health issues could result from vaping or other problematic behaviors, like alcohol or drug use. Always consult with your healthcare provider when your child experiences any new health symptoms or significant changes in sleep or appetite.

When speaking with your teen about vaping, address your concerns in an open dialogue rather than a lecture or using scare tactics.

Your teen might shut down, get defensive, or deny the issue if you try to control their behavior by lecturing, punishing, or making accusations. By opening up a conversation, you can learn more about why your teen is using vape products.

Teens and young adults vape for various reasons. Understanding why they vape is crucial to helping them quit.

silhouette of a person vaping electric cigarette, close up.

#4. What Is The #1 Reason For Teenage Vaping?

According to National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Dr. Nora Volkow, “the number one reason for teen vaping is that “teenagers . . . want to experiment.”

The teen years are a time of experimenting and trying new things. Teens are vulnerable to taking risks without regard for the long-term health consequences. They want to try new things as they create their identities from teens to young adults.

Parents can help prevent their kids from using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products by finding healthy outlets for their kids.

Your teen is going to want to take risks and try new things no matter what. As a parent, you can guide them to take healthy risks, such as sports, hobbies, art and music, and other activities that introduce them to other like-minded people.

In addition to experimenting, Dr. Volkow identifies other reasons for teenage vaping:

  • They like the flavors. Vaping products come in various flavors, like cotton candy, peach tea, gummi bear, watermelon, menthol, and others.
  • Teens are addicted to the chemical in vape products. The e-liquids in vaping devices can include harmful chemicals like nicotine, THC, and other addictive products.
  • Vaping products are easily concealed. Teens can hide vaping more easily than regular cigarettes because vape devices can look like everyday objects, like highlighters and pens. Juul brand e-cigarettes are designed to look like flash drives.

Another reason that many young people vape is an alternative to regular cigarettes. 

Teens might be curious about tobacco use and try vaping rather than other tobacco products, like smoking cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. Cigarette smoking can be easily identified compared to vaping, which can be masked by the flavors.

Some teens and young adults use vapes to quit smoking regular cigarettes.

Many young people believe that vaping is a healthy way to get tobacco-free. However, the most beneficial approach to giving up nicotine is to get completely vape and smoke-free due to the health risks of vaping.

Vaping poses many health risks, like marijuana and nicotine addiction, lung injury, and other adverse health effects. Teens who vape are especially at risk for developing these health issues.

illustration-no-vaping-sign

#5. Why Is Vaping Bad For Teens?

Vaping is bad for teens due to the potential long-term health consequences and the negative effects on brain development.

The teenage mind and body are still developing into the mid-20s. Using any addictive substance, like alcohol, nicotine, THC, and other drugs can lead to developing a dependence or addiction. Teens who vape are more likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life.

The CDC outlines several reasons why vaping is harmful to teens and young adults, including:

  • E-cigarettes contain addictive chemicals, like nicotine and THC. While most vape products have nicotine, some brands falsely claim not to have any nicotine.
  • The adolescent brain continues to develop until around the age of 25. Nicotine and other chemicals in vapes can harm teenage brain development.
  • Nicotine use during adolescence negatively affects parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, attention, learning, and mood.
  • Connections in the brain during learning develop faster in teens than adults. Nicotine can change these connections, also called “synapses.”
  • Using nicotine as a teenager increases the risk of developing a future addiction to other substances, including drugs and alcohol.
  • E-cigarettes and vape pens might have defective batteries, resulting in injury from fires or high temperatures.

Vaping puts teens at a greater risk of developing mental health issues like addiction and substance use disorders. If they vape to manage underlying mental health issues, these conditions can worsen without proper mental health treatment.

Vaping, like other products containing nicotine, THC, and tobacco, can also potentially harm your teen’s physical health.

Sad girl sitting thoughtfully at the street

#6. What Are The Physical Health Effects Of Vaping?

The products contained in vape products can be harmful to your teen’s physical health.

The physical health effects of vaping can affect your child’s developing lungs and oral health. These effects can lead to long-term negative health outcomes, including lung disease, cancer, and dental issues.

Some additives in e-cigarette aerosol might be harmful to a teen’s developing lungs.

The CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other state and federal public health agencies are monitoring “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI).”

According to the CDC, an EVALI outbreak was linked to a harmful additive in THC vaping products called vitamin E acetate. While safe when “ingested as a vitamin supplement or applied to the skin . . . when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung functioning.”

The CDC goes on to recommend that “E-cigarette, or vaping, products (nicotine- or THC-containing) should never be used by youths, young adults, or women who are pregnant.”

The risks of e-cigarettes outweigh any potential benefits as an alternative to smoking or chewing tobacco products. Young people are especially at a greater risk of these health effects due to adolescent brain development.

According to the Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry, “the effect of e-cigarettes on periodontal tissues is similar to that of conventional cigarettes.”

Like tobacco cigarettes, vaping can cause damage to the teeth and mouth. Your teen might have bad breath and poor dental hygiene caused by a dry mouth. Long-term use of e-cigarettes can cause gum disease, stained teeth, and tooth loss.

The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General states that teens who vape are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes.

While many might believe that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes, “among high school students and young adults who use two or more tobacco products, a majority use both e-cigarettes and burned tobacco products.”

Vaping, or e-cigarette use, is harmful to both adults and teens. However, teens are significantly more vulnerable to the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products containing addictive products like nicotine and THC.

Vaping write on a book with keywords isolated on wooden table.
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#7. Is There A Way To Test For Vaping?

Since vaping can be easily disguised, parents might be interested in knowing a way to test for vaping.

Parents can test for vaping and e-cigarette use by testing for the harmful products contained in these products. Since vaping is often used to deliver nicotine or THC, you can test for either of these chemicals.

Blood tests, saliva, urine, and hair follicles can contain evidence of using either nicotine or THC. Parents can purchase many of these products online or at their local drug store.

Parents should talk to their children about their concerns about vaping and help them create a plan to quit before testing.

If you suspect that your teenager is using e-cigarettes, cannabis, tobacco, or other substances, start with a conversation instead of pulling out a drug test for them to use. Always address your concerns with an open dialogue to learn about your teen.

A false accusation can erode trust between you and your teen. If your child is using substances like vapes, you can create a plan to quit, which might include regular testing to monitor their use and hold them accountable for quitting.

Studio shot of a young woman looking uninterested against a pink background

#8. How Do I Stop My Teenager From Vaping?

If your teenager is vaping, you can take many approaches to stop them from vaping.

Addiction to nicotine or THC from the use of e-cigarettes can make it challenging for your teen to quit without support. The causes of addiction can be complex. One of the first steps is talking to your teen about why they vape in the first place.

Your teen might vape to self-medicate with the stimulating effects of nicotine.

According to MedlinePlus, nicotine can “[b]oost mood, give people a sense of wellbeing, and possibly even relieve minor depression.” In addition, nicotine can “[s]timulate memory and alertness.”

Teens might also use vaping devices to deliver THC to their body and mind.

If your teen uses a vape pen with THC to deal with anxiety or depression, they will need healthy coping skills to deal with these underlying mental health issues. Teens might have begun vaping by experimenting and then leaned on vaping to deal with stress.

If teens don’t develop healthy coping skills for mental health issues, they are more likely to continue vaping or move on to other substances to self-medicate.

You can help your teen quit vaping and other tobacco products by assisting them in creating a plan to stop. By collaborating on a plan, your teen will be more likely to commit to vaping and smoking cessation than if you develop a plan for them.

Caucasian man vaping at an outdoor cafe

SmokeFree.gov offers tips that you can consider the following when working with your teen on a plan to quit vaping and e-cigarette use.

  • Share truthful information with your teen about the health risks of vaping.
    • Scare tactics and lectures don’t often work.
    • Present your teen with the facts and not unfound or exaggerated claims.
  • By informing your teen of the risks, you can help them identify a reason to quit.
    • When your child identifies why quitting is important to them, they will be more committed to the process (instead of quitting because we, as parents, are telling them to).
    • Some reasons to quit vaping include:
      • Impact on schoolwork and activities
      • Effects on friendships and relationships
      • Adverse side effects, like cravings, anxiety, irritability, and other negative feelings
      • Financial costs of buying vape pens, e-liquids, and other vaping products
      • Health risks, including the risk of developing an addiction or chronic lung disease
  • Encourage your teen to commit to being completely smoke-free and quit all tobacco products (including smokeless tobacco, like snuff or chew)
  • Help your teen identify and manage triggers that lead to vaping. Common triggers include:
    • Stressful events
    • Relationship issues
    • Peer pressure
  • Prepare your child to deal with withdrawal symptoms, which can be uncomfortable and lead to a relapse. Teens can manage withdrawal by some of the following:
    • Drinking plenty of water
    • Getting rest and adequate sleep
    • Eating healthy snacks
    • Talk to your healthcare provider for additional tips and advice on dealing with withdrawal symptoms
  • Help your child come up with strategies to manage cravings, like:
    • Focusing on games, hobbies, exercise, or getting outside
    • Take deep breaths, count to ten, or use other mindfulness exercises
  • Support your teen as they quit vaping:
    • Let them know you are here for them and be available to talk to them when they feel the negative effects of withdrawal.
    • They might be more irritable or anxious while quitting. Be empathetic and patient while they deal with these side effects.
    • Help them develop a support network of other family members, teachers, coaches, and friends. You won’t be available at all times, and teaching your child how to develop support systems will help them deal with other stressors as well.
    • Check-in with them throughout the day during withdrawal. You might want to check in regularly so that your teen knows that you are thinking about them.
    • Encourage your teen to find a peer support community, either online or in person.
  • You might want to consider drug testing if your child struggles to stay accountable for quitting.

The face of vaping young man

Quitting vaping and other tobacco products can be tough for your teen. By empowering your child to create a plan with your support, you can help them avoid the mental and physical health risks of vaping.

Vaping can contain addictive chemicals like THC and nicotine. The use of vaping products can lead to long-term mental and physical health issues in teens. Sandstone Care is here to support teens and young adults with substance use disorders. Call (855) 958-5511.

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