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How to Discuss E⁠-⁠Cigarettes and Nicotine Addiction With Youth



  • Educate yourself about e⁠-⁠cigarettes before discussing them with your students 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 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2.1 million students used e⁠-⁠cigarettes in the last 30 days, and more than 1 in 3 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.


Educate yourself about e⁠-⁠cigarettes before discussing them with your students. 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. 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.

several kinds of e-cigarettes and accessories

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 might try to let the conversation about e⁠-⁠cigarettes come up naturally, especially if your student is exhibiting signs of addiction (more on that below) or not acting like themselves. Remember that this should be an ongoing conversation. It’s OK for the discussion to happen in bits and pieces over time.


Some common signs of nicotine addiction are visible to others, such as increased irritability or anxiety while others are experienced internally by the addict, such as cravings and constant thoughts of the next time they will be able to smoke. Once you're having a conversation with your student about the possibility that they might be addicted to vaping, you can talk through a few questions about nicotine addiction, such as:

  • 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 student 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 student, you might want to talk to a school counselor or a health professional. You can also be on the lookout for symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as:

  • 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.


Learn some important facts about e⁠-⁠cigarettes that teens should know. You can also find some potential ways to talk to your students 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, which can harm your lungs.

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.

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.


As a teacher, you can make a lasting 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 class what they think about the information. If any of your students are willing to talk and confide in you about e⁠-⁠cigarette addiction and wants to quit, be supportive however you can. You can make a difference in your student's lives by talking about the real dangers of e⁠-⁠cigarettes.

Resources to learn more about e⁠-⁠cigarettes: