Vaping nicotine or marijuana has many dangerous side effects for young people.
There are warning signs to watch for if you suspect your child may be vaping. These include new health issues, behavior changes, unusual objects around the house, sweet or strange odors, and the use of vaping lingo with friends.
Whether your child is at home or in school, it is important to be on the lookout for risky behavior like vaping.
Many youth fall prey to this hidden habit, as fancy marketing campaigns, fun flavors, and friends and family use lead some to believe it’s a healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. However, vaping nicotine or marijuana is just as dangerous. It can damage lung health, affect school performance, and put your child at a higher risk for COVID-19 (coronavirus). In fact, a recent study found that teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are five to seven times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.
So, how can you know if your child is vaping and help them quit if they are? Here are five warning signs to watch for:
1. New health issues
Vape – whether nicotine or marijuana – contains poisonous chemicals that can affect your child’s lung and heart health. One of the most tell-tale signs of possible vape use is new asthma or respiratory symptoms, like chronic cough, shortness of breath, increased mucus, or bronchitis. Other vaping signs include nosebleeds, increased thirst, sleep changes, and minor taste loss from “vaper's tongue.” Your child may use more salts and spices on their food to add more flavor. If your child is experiencing new health issues, try talking with them – or their doctor – to see if these symptoms could be linked to vaping.
2. Behavior changes
The human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. So, using harmful substances like nicotine or marijuana at an early age can make your child more sensitive to their negative effects. They may have anxiety, irritability, and trouble remembering things. Their school performance or IQ could change.
If your child is vaping, they may also be more impulsive and engage in reckless behavior. A recent McLean Hospital study found that recreational marijuana use impacted driving ability – even when smokers were sober. They had more accidents, drove above the speed limit, and sped through more red lights than non-users.
3. Finding strange items around the house
Vape devices come in many shapes and sizes – and their designs are always changing. Some look like regular cigarettes or pipes, while others resemble USB flash drives or pens. There is even a hooded sweatshirt where you can vape from the drawstrings at the neck!
If you have been finding unusual objects around your house, they could be part of a vape or e-cigarette. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an online E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products Visual Dictionary to help you identify some common models and parts.
4. Weird smells
Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban on almost all flavored vaping cartridges and pods in January 2020, youth can still use flavored marijuana e-liquid in some states. The e-liquid comes in a variety of scents, from wedding cake to mint cookies and lemon. So, if you smell an unusual odor in your home and you can’t identify the source, it could be vape.
5. Suspicious behavior or conversations with friends
Some parents or guardians say they just “have a gut feeling” that their child is engaging in bad behavior. But there are also warning signs you can watch out for. For example, your child may use vaping lingo with friends that you are not familiar with. Popular phrases, according to the Truth Initiative’s Vaping Lingo Dictionary, include “stealth mode,” “dab,” and “ghost.” Try to listen to your child when they talk to their friends to see if they are using any vaping terms.
How to help your child quit vaping
If your child is vaping, the support of you and your family is crucial. There are many online- and text-based resources and programs that can help you, such as This is Quitting or the American Lung Association’s INDEPTH diversion program. You may also want to consult your local substance abuse coalition, school guidance counselor, or family doctor.
For more resources to help your child quit smoking or vaping, visit http://makesmokinghistory.org/dangers-of-vaping/help-youth-quit/.
Written by Kristin Erekson Barton, MA, CHES Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc
American Lung Association. (n.d.). What’s in an E-Cigarette? Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/e-cigarettes-vaping/whats-in-an-e-cigarette
American Lung Association. (n.d.). INDEPTH: An Alternative to Teen Nicotine Suspension or Citation. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/helping-teens-quit/indepth
American Psychological Association. (2015, November). Marijuana and the Developing Brain. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain
Batalla, A., Bhattacharyya, S., Yücel, M., Fusar-Poli, P., Crippa, J. A., Nogué, S., . . . Martin-Santos, R. (2013). Structural and Functional Imaging Studies in Chronic Cannabis Users: A Systematic Review of Adolescent and Adult Findings. PLoS ONE, 8(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.005582121 Retrieved from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055821
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 15). Reasons for Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students - National Youth Tobacco Survey, United States, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6706a5.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019, December 02). E-Cigarettes: Talk to youth about the risks. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/features/back-to-school/e-cigarettes-talk-to-youth-about-risks/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products Visual Dictionary. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/pdfs/ecigarette-or-vaping-products-visual-dictionary-508.pdf
Chen, Y., Tilden, C., & Vernberg, D. K. (2019). Adolescents’ interpretations of e-cigarette advertising and their engagement with e-cigarette information: Results from five focus groups. Psychology & Health, 35(2), 163-176. doi:10.1080/08870446.2019.1652752. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31418593/
Cho, J. H., & Paik, S. Y. (2016). Association between Electronic Cigarette Use and Asthma among High School Students in South Korea. Plos One, 11(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151022. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4778916/
Drugwatch. (2020, April 20). Juul & E-Cig Bans: City & State Vaping Bans. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.drugwatch.com/e-cigarettes/juul-ban/
Filbey, F. M., Aslan, S., Calhoun, V. D., Spence, J. S., Damaraju, E., Caprihan, A., & Segall, J. (2014). Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(47), 16913-16918. doi:10.1073/pnas.1415297111 Retrieved from: https://www.pnas.org/content/111/47/16913.full
Gaiha, S. M., Cheng, J., & Halpern-Felsher, B. (2020). Association Between Youth Smoking, Electronic Cigarette Use, and Coronavirus Disease 2019. Journal of Adolescent Health. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.07.002 Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X20303992?via%3Dihub
Gotts, J. E., Jordt, S., Mcconnell, R., & Tarran, R. (2019). What are the respiratory effects of e-cigarettes? The BMJ, L5275. doi:10.1136/bmj.l5275. Retrieved from: https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l5275.long
McCabe, B. (2019, May 15). Signs That Your Kid May Be Vaping - Health Topics, Parenting, Pediatrics. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/HealthU/2019/04/02/signs-that-your-kid-may-be-vaping/
Mcconnell, R., Barrington-Trimis, J. L., Wang, K., Urman, R., Hong, H., Unger, J., . . . Berhane, K. (2017). Electronic Cigarette Use and Respiratory Symptoms in Adolescents. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 195(8), 1043-1049. doi:10.1164/rccm.201604-0804oc. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422647/
McLean Hospital (2020, January 14). McLean Study Finds Marijuana Use Impacts Driving Even When Sober. Retrieved from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/news/mclean-study-finds-marijuana-use-impacts-driving-even-when-sober
Truth Initiative. (n.d.). This is Quitting. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://truthinitiative.org/thisisquitting
Truth Initiative. (2020, May). Truth Initiative’s Vaping Lingo Dictionary. Retrieved from https://truthinitiative.org/sites/default/files/media/files/2020/05/Vaping%20Lingo%20Dictionary_5.21_Final.pdf