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vape pens Parenting Tips

Why Teens Smoke: The Rise of Vaping

Haley Zapal  |  October 14, 2019

**This post was updated on December 16, 2022.**

Numerous reports have recently surfaced about a new and mysterious illness in which people are developing serious lung infections. Several outlets have even reported fatalities. There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that vaping is to blame.

It seems like every day in the news there’s another article about the dangers of vaping. So why do teens smoke (or vape)? There’s a lot to unpack, and it can come from all angles. So we collected some frequently asked questions to provide parents with the facts they need to better understand the danger that vaping poses to their kids.

1. What Exactly Is Vaping?

Vaping is similar to smoking in that users inhale a chemical cocktail to experience mild stimulation. If you think of a cigarette as an incinerator that burns tobacco, vaping uses an electronic device — which often looks like a pen — to vaporize a liquid fuel. The vapor is an “aerosol” that comes in all kinds of flavors and usually contains either nicotine or THC (the active compound in marijuana), in addition to 60+ other chemicals. Unlike cigarettes, vapes leave no little-to-no smell and can be used anywhere without detection, which makes them easy to hide.

2. How Many Kids Are Vaping?

Thanks to 30 years’ worth of anti-smoking public health campaigns, kids smoke cigarettes at record lows. This makes it all the more concerning that so many kids are getting their nicotine from vaping today. Vaping is a seemingly attractive alternative to smoking that threatens to set back our progress on public health by decades.

More than 20% of high-schoolers reported vaping in the past month, and the trend continues to rise. In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900% — and 40% of these users had never even smoked regular tobacco.

3. Why Do Teens Smoke? And Isn’t Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

For a while, many people thought so, especially in light of the medically accepted fact that smoking poses undeniable health risks. But just because something is allegedly safer than tobacco doesn’t mean that it’s safe — especially for children, who might find it more appealing to try all the fruity flavors.

We’re still not completely sure of the long-term effects of vaping. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary. The best-case scenario is that vaping turns out to not be physically harmful — but even then you still have to contend with the fact that it’s causing kids to become addicted to nicotine by the millions. The worst-case scenario is that vaping is both very unhealthy and also creates dependencies among its users that make it even more dangerous.

4. Are People Actually Getting Sick From Vaping?

Definitely. It’s not a series of isolated incidents, either. More than 1,000 cases have been reported, along with 18 deaths in 15 states. All patients reported a history of vaping, but the majority reported using THC-containing products. There’s also been some confusion around what types of vapes are dangerous. Many of the ones linked to disease were purchased on the black market. In any case, because there’s so much ambiguity — and because the research is limited — the CDC is now warning people to avoid all vaping products.

5. Does Vaping Happen At School?

Absolutely — and on an epidemic scale. Older generations will remember all the smoking that took place in the school bathroom. Kids today are bringing their vapes into the bathroom stalls — most notably those of the Juul brand. Juuls have become so popular in bathrooms that Gen Z has even made it into a meme, circulating joke petitions to “Remove Toilets from the Juul Room.”

Why Juuls in particular? Because they’re cheap, easy to conceal, and actually look like an unassuming, standard USB drive. Their appearance has even prompted some schools to ban flash drives in an effort to combat the spread of the devices. Other schools have gone so far as to file lawsuits against Juul, accusing the company of endangering students and forcing educators to divert time and money to fight nicotine addiction among teenagers.

6. What Do I Do If My Kids Are Vaping?

The most important thing you can do is talk to your child about vaping. Discuss the recent news stories with them so they know what’s happening and explain that these health threats are real. It can be easy to forget, but peer pressure still exists — the things kids are pressured into just change with every generation. Right now, it’s vaping. Making sure that your child knows the risks puts them in a better position to resist the temptation.

Growing up has always been a journey, but today’s generation has to deal with technology we couldn’t even dream of when we were kids. If you need advice or support in figuring out why your teen smokes or vapes, join our community of over 268,000 parents who are going through similar situations in Parenting in a Tech World.

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

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