Teen vaping is a growing and popular type of substance use. While some believe that vaping is safer than smoking, it is a risky activity for teens.

Teen vaping is popular and growing rapidly by the year. While teen cigarette use is nothing new, vaping takes it to another level altogether. To adults, vaping is advertised as a safe way to quit smoking.

At the same time, marketing designs are meant to appeal to teens and young adults. Companies use bright colors and attractive packaging. Because of these mixed messages, some people may believe that vaping is safer than smoking regular cigarettes.

While it may help some to quit smoking, there is little good news or health benefit stemming vaping. It remains a risky activity for teens and can lead to other substance use. Moreover, very little is known about the long-term health effects of vaping. In the end, vaping is anything but safe.

Risks of Vaping

Vaping is promoted as a safe alternative to smoking. It is indeed true that the fine mist from the vaping liquid does not contain the contaminants of cigarette smoke. However, most people don’t fully understand the health risks of vaping and little is known about the long-term hazards. Because vaping is a relatively new practice, the biggest health risk is the unknown.

Health Risks

Vaping juice contains a highly concentrated amount of nicotine, many times more than a regular cigarette. The list of other toxic chemicals often found in vaping liquid is eye-opening.

  • Chemicals linked to cancer and lung disease like diacetyl
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Heavy metals like nickel, lead and tin
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Formaldehyde

Vaping can have harmful effects on the lungs. According to a report from National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine that evaluated over 800 studies on e-cigarettes. The report highlights moderate evidence that young people who vape are at an increased risk for coughing, wheezing and an increase of asthmatic episodes. There is also conclusive evidence that most e-cigarettes release potentially toxic substances.

Vaping poses a risk to bystanders similar to second-hand smoke. According to the previous National Academies report, there is conclusive evidence that e-cigarette use increases the number of ultrafine particles in the air. Once these particles are released into the air, they can be unintentionally inhaled.

Psychological Risk

High concentrations of nicotine can make vaping very physically addictive, but the psychological risk of vaping could be even more dangerous. Nicotine creates both a strong physical and psychological addictions. The sense of relaxation and calm associated with nicotine use can be powerful. A person can find it difficult to stop chasing the sensations. Even if a teen hasn’t vaped very often, they may find themselves highly anticipating their next use.

Addictive behaviors cannot create a physical addiction the way a drug can. However, the psychological impact can be powerful enough itself to disrupt a healthy lifestyle. The same type of impact can be created when teens use vaping products.

Addictive behaviors may be challenging to spot. Teens are likely to hide or minimize their vaping use. Many addictive behaviors can also resemble normal emotional adjustments in teens. If you have noticed clues like bloodshot eyes and secretiveness, look closer to see if your teen is displaying other addictive behaviors. These clues may be signs of behavioral addiction in your teen Some common signs include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep problems

Vaping Can Lead to More Teen Drug Use

Brain maturity and development is not complete until about age 25. The shortcomings of the teenage brain make young people vulnerable to drug abuse. Teens don’t always manage impulse control well and they can misjudge risky situations. Young people rely on strong supportive adults to help them understand boundaries and learn good coping skills. These relationships are vital for teens as they mature into young adults.

For some teens, adult support is unreliable or not effective. In these situations, teens often use substances to meet their psychological needs. The lack of healthy social support can create a vacuum and vaping can fill the empty space. This is the type of situation that often leads to teen drug use and possible addiction issues.

Nicotine, a Common but Powerful Drug

Nicotine remains very easy to access, along with its correlating addictive effect. When teens vape nicotine, their bodies aren’t exposed to the toxic effects of tobacco. However, great danger remains in the way nicotine affects the brain’s reward system. Vaping liquid contains a much higher concentration of nicotine than a normal cigarette. Therefore, the effects of nicotine are very powerful with just a few puffs.

Nicotine increases the levels of dopamine in the body, the chemical in the body that naturally produces a pleasurable sensation. When dopamine levels are artificially boosted with nicotine, a person can become addicted. This disruption of the reward system can have long-lasting negative effects according to an article on DrugAbuse.gov.

The brain circuits that control attention and concentration are still developing during the teen and young adult years. Impulse control is also improved during this time frame. In addition, long-term exposure to nicotine can disrupt the development of these important functions. This disruption causes problems that can last into adulthood.

Vaping Nicotine Can Lead to Marijuana Use

Once a teen begins vaping nicotine, it’s an easy switch to vape marijuana. According to an article in the journal Pediatrics, vaping among teens is predictive of future marijuana use. The strongest associations were with young adolescents. The study concluded that reducing access to e-cigarettes could help prevent marijuana use later in life. Marijuana vaping is particularly risky because the liquid can produce a much more intense high than smoking can.

According to a study in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, vaping is associated with other substance use such as alcohol and opiates. Participants in the study also reported vaping were likely to have mental health disorders. The most common disorders reported from this study were as anxiety, ADHD, PTSD and problems with impulsivity. This is not surprising since mental health disorders and substance misuse often occur together.

Vaping is Risky for Teens and Is Not Safer Than Smoking

Despite claims that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking, it’s a risky but popular substance of choice for teenagers. Psychological addiction can develop with nicotine even if a person isn’t physically addicted. These psychological effects can be disruptive during the formative teen years. Vaping can set the stage for long-term nicotine addiction and open the door for additional drug use.

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Erika Krull, LMHP
Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. Read more

Dai, Hongying; Catley, Dewlyn; Richter, Kimber P; Goggin, Kathy; Ellerbeck, Edward F. “Electronic Cigarettes and Future Marijua[…]A Longitudinal Study.” May, 2018. Accessed August 10.

DrugAbuse.gov. “Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes).” June, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2019.

Grant, JE.; Lust, K.; Fridberg, D.J., King, A.C.; Chamberlain, S.R. “E-cigarette Use (Vaping) is Associated w[…] University Students.” February, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.

NAP.edu. “Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes.” January, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.