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What Makes Vaping So Dangerous?

The Health Risks You Need to Know

In 2022, about one in seven high school students and about one in 30 middle school students reported that they had used electronic cigarettes — also known as vaping — in the past 30 days. E-cigarettes have been the most common tobacco product among youth since 2014.

An e-cigarette, or vape pen, is an electronic device that heats a pod of liquid, turning it into vapor that contains nicotine, flavorings and other substances. The chemicals in the liquid that's vaporized and inhaled can be harmful — especially to teens.

Behaviors and Risks

Blair Elise Wright, MD, is a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine. She says that while some of her patients vape every day, others only vape when they are with their friends at school or on the bus.

"Of my pediatric patients who have told me that they vape, none of them have reported doing so in order to quit smoking cigarettes," she explains. "As pediatric care teams, we're worried about nicotine dependence, which may lead to an increased risk of using other nicotine products, like cigarettes, in the future."

Although e-cigarette use is becoming more common, its impact on health is still unclear. Evidence shows that vaping may impact adolescent health in the following ways:

  • E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is very addictive and can harm developing brains.
  • Adolescent exposure to tobacco or nicotine may lead to misuse of nicotine and other substances.
  • Children and adults have been poisoned by e-cigarette liquid through contact with their eyes or skin.
  • Withdrawal from nicotine can negatively affect your mental health. It may lead to feeling isolated, ashamed and less confident.

There are also factors that contribute to wider use of e-cigarettes, particularly for children and young people. These include:

  • Kids may think that vaping is harmless.
  • Vapes are offered in kid-friendly and appealing flavors.
  • Vaping is easy to do (and hide) in indoor areas like bedrooms, bathrooms and classrooms.

Interventions and Care

Health officials and care teams are working to address the issue of vaping.

"We are providing resources and helping to educate each other on how to help families and teenagers get the resources that they need if they're struggling with addiction and to have good, open communication even when they're not," Dr. Wright says.

Some tips to remember that can help prevent vape use are:

  • Do not use tobacco. Young people and children may be influenced by the behavior of adults in their life. You can help prevent exposure to tobacco products.
  • Be open. Talk to young people about why e-cigarettes are bad for them. Let them know that you are there to help them when they need it.
  • Connect with the child's care team. Let them hear from medical professionals about the health risks of tobacco products, including vape pens and other vaping devices.
Talk to the young people — and all your loved ones — in your life about the dangers of vaping. Offering support, before they try vaping or during continued vaping, may help them seek counseling or treatment and prevent future health issues.