Harms of Nicotine – How to Tell if Your Kid is Vaping?

Vapes, also commonly known as e-cigarettes, trace back to the 1960’s and have evolved since this time. E-cigarettes were initially introduced in the U.S. as a less harmful alternative and aid to help people quit smoking. However, The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2008 reported it did not consider electronic cigarettes to a be a legitimate smoking aid and demanded marketers immediately remove from their materials any suggestions that electronic cigarettes are safe and effective.

Since this time, vaping has begun to rebrand itself in the form of a JUUL with the potential new target being adolescents and youth.

JUULing is another term used for vaping. It has developed its own culture among teenagers. JUUL is a vape and it is considered ‘cool’ among kids doing it. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) in 2020, 19.6% of overall high school students and 4.7% of middle school students use vapes. That is 3.02 million high schoolers and 550,000 middle schoolers!

If you are a parent of a kid in the age group 10-21, I’m sure this might be worrying you. So what do you need to know about vaping and how can you intervene with your adolescent if it becomes an issue?

How Harmful Is Vaping?

Vaping is just as harmful as the drug substance used in it. Nicotine is used as the substance in most vapes. Nicotine is considered the fourth most addictive drug after cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. Nicotine is a stimulant drug found in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco and can have an impact on the developing brains of adolescents and young adults. Nicotine is highly addictive and reaches the brain within 8 seconds of inhalation.

One of the reasons nicotine can be so addictive is its effect on the bodies neurotransmitter system.  Nicotinic receptors in the brain augment the release of numerous neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and glutamate, which are responsible for effects of nicotine. Nicotine effects on the body include increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased alertness, and reduced appetite. For instance, the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for making decisions and governing impulse control, is not fully developed in teenagers and nicotine can impact this structure.

Studies have also shown that nicotine affects decision-making and efficiency in tasks involving memory, focus, and attention. Another harm about vaping is that it involves other chemicals like benzene, normally found in car exhaust, and metals like nickel, tin, and lead, which can harm the bodies of young people. These harmful chemicals can also cause serious lung diseases in long-term use. Research has also shown the association between vaping and cigarette smoking, with adolescents who vape being four times more likely to take up cigarette smoking.

How to Tell if Your Kid Is Vaping?

Simply put, when looking at the research on vaping and its prevalence in the U.S., it increases the odds that your child/adolescent could be exposed to vaping in some way. For instance, they could have classmates or older students at the school that vape or talk about its positive effects. There is also the dynamic of needing to fit in to a social group, which may lead them down the path of trying a vape. If this is the case, what can you do as a parent.


Here are 3 simple signs to spot vape use with teenagers.

1. Physiological (Physical) Signs

2. Behavioral Signs

3. Other Signs


Physical Signs

These are the changes in the human body, which could mean they are vaping.

1. Nose Bleeds

Vaping causes dryness in the nasal passage. This results in nose bleeding. If your child is experiencing nose bleeding for no other good reason, this could be a sign as well.

2. Sensitivity to Caffeine

Frequent use of vapes causes sensitivity to caffeine, with some users. If your kid suddenly avoids any kind of caffeine, which they normally don’t. This could be a red flag.

3. Chest Pain and Breath Shortness

Vaping causes serious lung injuries, as an impact of these injuries your child might experience shortness of breath, if they are involved in any athletic activities, this sign would show itself quite clearly. They might also experience chest pains.

4. Weight Loss

Nicotine consumption causes loss of appetite. The hunger is mostly quenched with nicotine intake. This reflects on their weight.

5. Dry Mouth

This sign is more common than others. The liquid used in vapes contains Propylene Glycol, which causes dehydration. If you notice your kid drinking more water than usual, along with other signs of dehydration like dark circles under their eye. This could be an alarm too.

6. Eating more Spicy Food

As a result of dry mouth, the tongue loses its flavor perception. So they might add more spices to their food. This effect is known as Vaper’s tongue.

7. Seizures

Again, vaping is not something to be taken lightly. It can cause seizures as well. The FDA had received 127 reports of seizure or other neurological symptoms after the use of e-cigs in the span of 2010-2019. This is a serious red flag.

Behavioral Changes

These are subtle changes in their behavior that could be an alarm.

1. Mood Swings and Irritability

Nicotine affects the prefrontal cortex, which creates changes in emotions. This can cause mood swings and impulse actions. Nicotine addiction also causes irritability, especially when they haven’t been able to vape for a while. If you have been with them all day and they start getting cranky for no reason at the end of the day. It could be a sign they are vaping.

2. Stress and Anxiety

People develop nicotine addiction thinking it will relieve the stress. While the research shows that it increases stress and anxiety. Unnecessary stress and anxious behavior could be a sign as well.

3. Sleeplessness

Vaping causes sleeplessness, especially at bedtime. Nicotine increases the heart rate and blood pressure, which can keep people awake. An increase in sleeplessness could be a red flag they might be vaping.

Other Signs

These are some signs that are neither physical nor psychological.

1. The Fruity Smell

The smell of normal tobacco cigarettes is very different from the e-cigarettes. Vapes come in different flavors, mostly fruits. If you’re smelling sweet fragrances and you don’t see any other explanation like chewing gum or candy, this could be the smell of vape flavor.

2. Unusual Objects

Vapes come in different objects. Traditional e-cig is one. There are new additions to these devices. JUUL is popular among teens. They come in the shape of a pen, or a USB drive. They can also open up the part of the vape and assemble it later, like batteries, chargers, and liquid containers. If you find these it could be a sign they’re vaping.

These are the typical signs that your kids might be vaping. However, please don’t be quick in making your decision based on just one or two of these signs. Most importantly, engaging in an honest and open conversation with your your child about vaping can be the greatest lead in to asking the question, “Are you vaping?”

When does vaping get too serious?

In this article, we’ve mostly spoken with the assumption that kids are vaping nicotine. But some users do other drugs in vapes too. Marijuana being one of these. Vaping in itself is serious for adolescents, but when they are doing other drugs through these vapes, it gets too serious.

The bottom line is vaping is serious, especially for kids in the age group of 10 to 21. If it is not addressed quickly, it could lead to nicotine adddiction and have adverse effects on their mental health and physical health short and long term.

Have a Plan

Please make sure that you are not hesitant about having a plan. If you are sure they are vaping, keep calm and show empathy towards them. Talk to them about it. Find out why they’re doing it in the first place and how they got into it. Tell them you love them and that you just don’t want to see them harmed. And of course, if you think they need help, please seek out a mental health and addiction professional.

This article was written collaboratively by Ted Izydor and Noman Shaikh.



E-cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2020 | MMWR (cdc.gov)

Short- and long-term consequences of nicotine exposure during adolescence for prefrontal cortex neuronal network function – PubMed (nih.gov)

Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products | Electronic Cigarettes | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC

FDA In Brief: FDA encourages continued submission of reports related to seizures following e-cigarette use as part of agency’s ongoing scientific investigation of potential safety issue | FDA


E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General (cdc.gov)




About Ted Izydor - LPC, CSAC, ICS, MINT 62 Articles
Ted Izydor holds both a Master of Counseling Psychology and Master of Business Administration. With a distinguished 20-year clinical therapy background as a mental health and addiction counselor, Ted offers techniques, strategies and approaches that produce changes. As the founder of Full Potential Coaching and Consulting of Wisconsin, he devotes himself to sharing this knowledge and insight to people seeking more fulfilling, happier and healthier lives.

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