Why teens should avoid e cigarettes

Parents should make sure teens know the facts about e cigarettes.

Woman smoking with electronic cigarette

Image source: Thinkstock

A few months ago, a teen asked me about using “vapes” or e cigarettes. This lead to some reading of news reports, research and marketing materials.

Here’s what I know so far about e cigarettes.

E cigarettes are battery powered devices used to simulate smoking cigarettes. They do not contain tobacco, but do contain aerosolized nicotine. The nicotine, and other flavorings, are vaporized from a liquid solution so that they can be inhaled.

Theoretically, the lack of inhaled tobacco smoke would make e cigs safer than traditional cigarettes. They were originally developed, it seems, as an alternative to smoking and as a means to quit smoking. More recently they are primarily being marketed as an alternative because the claim as a smoking cessation aid might lead to them being regulated as a medical device.

What does this mean for younger people?

I have a major concern here. E cigarettes may be giving us the false impression that they are safe and without health consequences. They contain nicotine and nicotine is a highly addictive drug with known side effects. Plenty of robust research to support that.

Not only do they contain a highly addicting drug, but they are marketed alongside all kinds of flavorings that would readily appeal to young people, such as “Cherry Crush,” “Java Jolt,” and “Pina Colada.” It’s easy to see where your average adolescent would be drawn to trying the new “cool” thing here. And since there’s no smelly tobacco smoke involved, even less of a reason to avoid them.

It’s also been suggested to me that teens have found ways to add “other” substances to the aerosolized liquid. Hiding drug use in plain sight?

I cannot honestly tell you if inhaling “nicotine-free” e cigs (those exist, too) is a step down the slippery slope to nicotine, cigarette or other drug use. I can tell you this. Nicotine is a drug that no child should be using. Making it prettier and tastier with blue lights and fruity flavors only makes it more appealing to young people who are most at risk for developing an addiction.

Talk to your kids about e cigs. Make sure they know the facts. Just because it isn’t a burning cigarette doesn’t make it safe.


  1. Avatar ChrisCastoro says

    Nice article, Doctor Willis! I am particularly disturbed by the blatant marketing to children by using flavorings like cherry and strawberry.