E-Cigarettes and Teens

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat solutions of nicotine and flavorings (and sometimes other substances) to turn them into aerosol gas. Users — and the people around them — inhale the aerosol into their lungs. Nicotine is a toxic chemical which interferes in brain development.

E-cigarettes are a particular issue for teens. For one thing, teens are more likely to use e-cigs than to smoke traditional cigarettes — but those who use e-cigs are also three times more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes than those who don’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all long-term smokers of regular cigarettes die from cigarette use. The CDC points out that saying e-cigs are safer than regular cigarettes doesn’t say much.

Teens generally don’t understand the dangers of e-cigarettes. Almost two thirds of teens believe their e-cigs contain nothing but flavoring, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Teens are exposed to a lot of advertising for e-cigarettes. That includes middle school and high school students. E-cig ads are designed to appeal to young people in ways that are now illegal for makers of regular cigarettes. Kid-friendly candy and fruit flavors and Back to School sales make it clear that the e-cig companies are targeting teens.

Are E-cigarettes safe?

Teens may believe that e-cigs are safe, but that’s not the case.

  • E-cigs contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that has negative effects on brain development. What else do they contain? At the moment, the producers of e-cigs don’t have to tell consumers what’s in their products. Studies of e-cigs currently on the market have found that they contain harmful chemicals including heavy metals.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is looking at e-cigs as a possible help for smokers who want to quit. However, they have not yet found any e-cigarette that is safe and effective for this purpose. Non-smoking teens are being drawn to e-cigs, and they are often going on to use regular cigarettes as well.

What’s the solution?

Share information with the teens you know. Here are some resources that can help:

  • You can download the infographic shown here and share it freely at home or school, in youth groups or your workplace.
  • The Surgeon General has a parent tip sheet for talking with kids about e-cigarettes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control have a quick collection of facts to get you started. They also have a PDF poster about JUULs and other e-cigs that look like flash drives, which you can download and share.

Ask your pediatrician to help you have this conversation if it makes you more comfortable. It’s important to get the truth across to your teens. Your child’s doctor may be able to help you have the conversation in a calm and supportive way.

Let them know that you don’t want them to use nicotine products, including e-cigs. Studies in the U.S. and in Europe have found that teens are less likely to smoke if their parents disapprove. If you don’t smoke yourself and you don’t allow smoking in your home, your teens are less likely to smoke.

Be supportive while they work on quitting. You might know from experience that it’s hard to quit using an addictive substance. Punishment often doesn’t help, but you can encourage your son or daughter to persist.