How to talk to your Children about Vaping
This is a parent’s guide to vaping. Vaping and children are subject areas that fit together very contentiously in many minds. So what should you be telling your children about vaping and e-cigarettes? Pretending vapes don't exist is definitely not the healthy option. An open and honest conversation is almost always the best way forward.
How many children are actually vaping?
In some parts of the UK it may now seem as familiar to see a child vaping in the street as it perhaps was to see them smoking in years gone by. Could this mean that vaping has taken over from cigarettes as a gateway to teenage nicotine use? From recent research in the UK things certainly seem to have moved in that direction.
Anti-smoking charity ASH has been monitoring e-cigarette use by 11-18 year olds since 2013. They found that less than 3.6% of the age group used e-cigarettes more than once a week in 2023. While this seems low, it is significantly higher than the figure of 2.0% published in 2020.
11.5% of 11-17 year olds that had never smoked were current e-cigarette users. However because most children have never smoked nowadays, they make up almost half of those that currently vape. The same survey showed that almost 40% of 16-18 year olds had ever tried an e-cigarette, and this number has certainly risen over time. This means you should make sure you child understands about vaping, and its relationship with smoking. It’s a conversation that could be important for the rest of their life.
How old do you have to be to buy a vape?
It has been against the law to sell vaping products to anyone under 18 in Great Britain since 2015. Similarly it is also against the law to buy vaping products for someone that is under 18 (this is called a "proxy" purchase). Because of this we have a "Challenge 25" policy in our stores. If you are lucky enough to look like you are under 25, we will ask for ID before selling to you. We also have very robust age verification for sales from our website.
What age to talk to your child about vaping?
You need to consider having conversations about vaping and smoking early, possibly quite a bit earlier than you might guess. It really needs to be before the first time they might get offered a puff on an e-cigarette, or much worse, a tobacco cigarette. Use your judgement based on how adventurous you think your child is. It might be that you are talking about vaping with a child as young as 10. If you have a child older than 13, and you haven't broached the subject yet, now is a good time!
How to tell if your child is vaping
First of all, try not to get too riled up by the "teen vaping" panic that has been so heavily promoted in the press. It is relatively unlikely that your child vapes, and even less likely that they vape regularly. Less than one in twenty 11-15 year olds currently use e-cigarettes. Around 85% have never used them at all according to 2023 ASH figures.
Unlike smoking, vaping doesn't leave much of a smell, so if your child vapes, it might be hard to spot. Keep an eye out for e-liquid bottles (about the size of eye-drop or ear-drop bottles), vape sticks that look like marker pens, or disposable vape pods. If any of those turn up in bins or pockets, it might well be time for a conversation.
How do I confront my child about vaping?
The first thing is, don't confront them, you don't need to. You do need to understand their point of view, and you should hear them out before challenging that view. Get yourself comfortable with the facts about vaping, avoiding scaremongering nonsense from the USA about the effects of "teen vaping". Make sure you understand that although nicotine and e-cigarette vapour in general are far safer than smoking, they are not completely risk free, and there is no good reason for anyone to vape unless it is to cut down or quit smoking.
Understand the effects of child vaping
You may find material on the internet, mainly from the USA, about nicotine "rewiring the adolescent brain", or vaping causing nose-bleeds among teenagers. This "shock and awe" tactic seems to have been designed to scare adolescents away from vaping. Anyone who remembers being a rebellious teenager would have guessed that it actually had the opposite effect, and attracted teenagers to vaping. In particular, a high strength disposable pod product called JUUL became a trend among young Americans. The fire was very much stoked by anti-e-cig advocates. Consequently they ended up inadvertently advertising the very thing they were trying to prevent.
The effects and side-effects of vaping are pretty well understood, click the link for more information. Something more difficult when considering children and vaping is the association with smoking. The idea that vaping forms some type of "gateway effect" has now been completely dismissed by all credible researchers. However a young person that is comfortable about inhaling vapour might well be OK with the idea of inhaling smoke. One of the saving graces of vaping nicotine is that it does not appear to be particularly addictive compared with smoking. However smoking can be an incredibly tough addiction to break.
Vaping vs. smoking
While we don't want kids to start vaping, we really, really don't want them to start smoking. It is incredibly important that your children understand just how bad smoking is for long-term health. They also need to know how difficult the habit is to kick. Unfortunately 54% of 11-17 year olds in Great Britain incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as or more harmful than smoking. It is important to help your children to understand that you don't want them to vape. However, you REALLY, REALLY don't want them to smoke. Some 11-17 year old smokers that vape are doing so either to avoid smoking, or so they can quit entirely according to recent ASH figures. Not the most desirable situation that they smoke or vape, but sometimes the lesser of two evils has to be considered.
Find the right moment to talk to your child about vaping
You need to make sure you have the conversation at a time when your child feels relaxed and unthreatened. This should help to make the conversation more open. Ask questions, and listen carefully to answers. Ask about what your kid's school friends think about vaping and smoking. Make sure they understand that smoking is much more addictive, and very much more harmful than vaping e-cigarettes.
Be open and calm
If your child has tried an e-cigarette, they are very unlikely to feel able to talk about it if you appear angry or distressed. They may even find it difficult to be honest with you. Teach but don't preach, and avoid quoting any of the reactionary themes about vaping that appear in the press. If it's not credible to me, any cynical teenager will see straight through it.
The honest truth is that vaping is a way for smokers to massively reduce the long term harms of smoking. Hopefully many will be able to quit smoking entirely. The best thing for any child is never to smoke, and therefore never need to vape to give it up.
The Risks of Another Epidemic: Teenage Vaping.
What are the side effects of vaping?
Epidemic of youth nicotine addiction? What does the National Youth Tobacco Survey 2017-2019 reveal about high school e-cigarette use in the USA?
Dependence levels in users of electronic cigarettes, nicotine gums and tobacco cigarettes.
Use of e-cigarettes among young people in Great Britain – ASH – June 2023