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March 2020

Teens and Vaping: A Dangerous Mix

One in 5 high school students—and 1 in 20 middle schoolers—say they’ve used e-cigarettes within the past month. Many believe these products are safer than regular cigarettes. But the latest evidence shows just how mistaken that belief is.

The use of e-cigarette devices, called vaping, has been linked to more than a thousand cases of lung injury and more than two dozen deaths. About 15% of those affected have been younger than age 18. Scientists are still investigating the cause of the lung damage. But many cases seem to be tied to vaping THC, the mind-altering compound in marijuana.

Yet even when no THC is present, vaping can harm teens in several ways. Consequently, the CDC says that any e-cigarette use is unsafe for children, teens, and young adults. Here’s the lowdown on why vaping is so dangerous and how to protect your child.

Anatomy of an E-cig

E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid to create an aerosol—a mist of small particles that can be inhaled. It’s easy to see the appeal for teens. The liquid often comes in fruit and candy flavors. And the device sometimes looks like a flash drive or pen, so it’s not obvious to parents.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the aerosol is not just harmless water vapor. A typical e-cigarette can contain several harmful substances, including:


Most e-cigarette liquids contain nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco products. In fact, one liquid pod may contain as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. Nicotine can harm the adolescent brain, which keeps developing until age 25. Using nicotine as a teen can also make the brain more easily addicted to other drugs.


Teens say that flavorings are a major reason they’re drawn to e-cigarettes. But some flavorings that are safe when eaten can be hazardous when inhaled. For example, a flavoring chemical called diacetyl has been tied to serious lung disease.


Vaping devices can also be used to inhale the THC in marijuana. About one-third of middle and high school students who ever tried a vaping device have used marijuana in it. Marijuana use as a teen can impact attention, learning, and memory. Plus, there’s the potential risk for deadly lung injury.

What parents can do

Talk with your teen about the dangers of vaping. Look for natural conversation starters, such as seeing an e-cigarette ad. Encourage an open dialogue and try not to sound judgmental. Ask your child’s healthcare provider to discuss the risks with your teen as well.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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