Key Takeaways

  • Educate yourself about e-cigarettes before discussing them with a teen and learn helpful ways to approach the conversation.

  • Recognize the warning signs of nicotine addiction in youth and find e-cigarette quit resources tailored to teens.

  • Learn about the resources pediatricians recommend to help youth quit vaping, and how parents and educators can approach these conversations.

According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 3.6 million teens used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, and nearly a quarter of high-school aged users report daily use. Given those concerning numbers, many teens may find themselves on the path to nicotine addiction. This article is geared toward parents, though educators and other influential adults can also use these resources to make a profound difference by talking to a teen about addiction. Educators can also share this article directly with parents. Read on to learn how to identify symptoms of nicotine addiction in youth and what you can do to help them.

Read Up Before You Bring It Up 

Educate yourself about e-cigarettes before discussing them with your teen. The first thing to know is that an e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats an “e-liquid”—usually containing nicotine—to create an aerosol that the user inhales into their lungs. The e-liquid can also contain varying compositions of flavorings and other chemical additives, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Kids know these products by a variety of names—vapes, vaporizers, vape pens—or by popular brand names—Juul, Puff Bar, Vuse, Blu, Suorin, and NJOY. E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some may look like USB flash drives or pens, which can make them easy for teens to hide or conceal. Although this article is focused on e-cigarettes containing nicotine, you should also be aware that vape devices can be used to deliver marijuana or liquids containing THC. 


In the video below, leading pediatricians Deepa Camenga, MD, and Susan Walley, MD, give parents an overview of vaping. They describe the effects of nicotine on the developing teen brain and some possible health effects of inhaling toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes.

You can find additional resources to learn more about e-cigarettes at the end of this article. 

Pick a Natural Time to Talk

You might try to let the conversation about e-cigarettes come up naturally, especially if your child is exhibiting signs of addiction (more on that below) or not acting like themselves. You can ask your teen what they think during a shared experience: when you see someone using an e-cigarette in person or on TV, when you drive or walk by a vape shop, or you see an e-cigarette advertisement on TV or online. Remember that this is a conversation. It’s OK for the discussion to happen in bits and pieces over time.

Know the Warning Signs of Nicotine Addiction

Some common signs of nicotine addiction are increased irritability or anxiety. Once you’re having a conversation with your teen about the possibility that they might be addicted to vaping, you can talk through a few questions about nicotine addiction. 

  • Do you continue to vape even though you want to stop or think it’s hurting you in some way?
  • Do you feel anxious or irritable when you want to use your vape but can’t?
  • Do thoughts about vaping interrupt you when you are focused on other activities?

If your child answers yes to one or more of these questions, they may be addicted to vaping. Please keep in mind that this article is intended to educate and guide, not to be used for any kind of diagnosis. If you have concerns about your child, you might want to talk to a health professional.  

 You can also be on the lookout for symptoms of nicotine withdrawal:

  • Feeling irritable, restless, or jittery
  • Feeling sad, down, anxious, tired, or groggy
  • Having trouble concentrating or sleeping 

In this next video, Dr. Camenga and Dr. Walley describe how they identify nicotine addiction in patients and what behaviors concerned parents should look for.

Important Facts About E-Cigarettes to Spark a Dialogue

Learn some important facts about e-cigarettes that teens should know. You can also find some potential ways to talk to your teen about quitting.

Vape aerosol can contain harmful chemicals. 

  • Vapes get their flavors from chemicals. While some flavorings are safe to eat in food, inhaling flavor chemicals can harm your lungs. 
  • Vaping can also expose your lungs to dangerous chemicals, like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, and metal particles like nickel, tin, and lead.

You can’t rely on a label to tell you exactly what’s in a vape.

  • Some vapes that claim they are nicotine-free are not.
  • Some vapes can be tainted or contaminated.
  • You may be offered a vape at a party, but remember, you don’t know what is in it.

Most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

  • A teen’s brain is still developing, making it more vulnerable to nicotine addiction. 
  • Being exposed to nicotine as a teen can cause short-term and long-term effects on attention, learning, and memory that promote addiction to nicotine. 
  • Vaping delivers nicotine to the brain in as little as 10 seconds.
  • Some e-cigarettes use nicotine salts which may allow the nicotine content to be quickly absorbed.

Addiction is serious.

  • Quitting is really hard, and I don’t want you to go through that. The best thing is not to start at all.

In this video, Dr. Camenga and Dr. Walley describe how they approach conversations with teens about vaping and give advice to parents on how to start the conversation.

Continue the Conversation 

As a parent, you can make a big impression by staying open to continuing the conversation. Many teens are interested in learning more facts about e-cigarettes. If they aren’t familiar with FDA’s “The Real Cost” Youth E-Cigarette Prevention Campaign, it might be a good idea to share it with them because it is a unique public education campaign specifically designed to appeal to teens. 

Another tip is to share links to any of the resources in this article, or other news articles about vaping, and to ask your teen what they think about the information. If your teen is willing to talk about e-cigarette addiction and wants to quit, be supportive however you can. You can make a difference in your child’s life by talking about the real dangers of e-cigarettes.

Resources to learn more about e-cigarettes:

—Kathy Crosby is the Director of Communications at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Learn more at www.fda.gov.

Header photo credit: Oliver Rossi/Getty Images.

Want more great content? Subscribe to our Teacher Newsletter below and get teaching ideas delivered right to your inbox.