The Dramatic Rise in Vaping Among Teens Is Dangerous—Here's Why

vape on a blue background

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Key Takeaways

  • Only 6% of teens vaped between 2013 and 2016, while more than double were vaping by 2019 and 2020.
  • Cannabis vaping can be linked to mental and physical concerns, as well as addiction.
  • Experts urge parents to discuss the dangers of vaping with their children.

If it seems like you're seeing more and more teenagers vaping lately—it's because you are. Cannabis vaping is on the rise, according to research that analyzed data spread over several years. A team at the National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research at the University of Queensland in Australia examined studies that included thousands of teens, drawing the conclusion that vaping continues to gain popularity.

While some teens may think vaping is better than smoking marijuana, there are still risks associated with it. Experts explain why vaping can be dangerous for anyone—especially teens—and how parents can talk to their children about it.

A Closer Look at the Study

The research looked at nearly 200,000 adolescents across 17 studies conducted in the United States and Canada. The data showed that between 2013 and 2016, 6.1% of teens were using cannabis vapes. The number more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, showing that teens favored cannabis oil over dried herbs.

Carmen Lim, PhD candidate, faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Queensland and an author of this study, says they didn't find any estimates outside the States and Canada. This, combined with the lack of a full data set for all of the years, were two of the main study limitations. However, the team gathered sufficient data by reaching out to the individual study authors.

Lim added that now that the team has seen how much of an increase there has been in vaping, they plan to look into a more specific breakdown of who is vaping (ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, etc.), and the risks involved.

The Dangers of Cannabis Vaping

As the popularity of vaping increases, teens seem to feel more and more comfortable giving this addictive habit a go. It's easy to assume that vaping, since it's an "alternative" to traditional smoking, isn't as dangerous. That's not the case.

As with any smoke inhalation, cannabis vaping is negative effects on the lungs. One recent study went as far as to claim that vaping cannabis may be more harmful to the lungs than nicotine inhalation. Vaping can lead to lung issues like incessant coughing, asthma, and further lung injury, though the research doesn't state the extent that it could lead to.

Pediatrician David Shafran, MD, head of pediatrics at K Health, points out that vape pens or e-cigarettes tend to be less regulated, which means there is less knowledge about the potential dangers of vaping.

A 2020 study in Oxford Academic's Paediatrics & Child Health reports that using high-potency concentrates (in other words, what's found in vape pens), is correlated with a higher rate of mental and physical health issues. Some more drastic effects include paranoia, severe vomiting, and psychosis.

"Long-term consequences in terms of carcinogenic potential and cardiovascular outcomes are still largely unknown but are believed to be less than traditional smoking," Dr. Shafran says. He also notes that the heating mechanism in the devices can be a risk for burns, further adding to why teens should avoid vape pens.

Vaping Can Be Addictive

In addition to the negative physical and mental effects of vaping, it can also become addicting.

"[Vaping cannabis products] raises several potential problems. Not only it is linked to poorer cognitive development in adolescents, but it could also increase the risk of dependence, other substance use, and many other health, social, and behavioural problems later in life," Lim says. Teens may have more difficulty focusing in school or become dependent on cannabis, which can act as a gateway drug to stronger products.

Starting to vape cannabis as a teenager can be addicting and lead them down the path of nicotine addiction. E-cigarettes can easily be swapped from cannabis to nicotine, and nicotine introduces a whole new group of toxins into the body. Nicotine is also another incredibly addictive drug that you want your teens to avoid.

David Shafran, MD

The best way to approach teenagers is never by making a speech. It's better to have the conversation in bits and pieces, ideally within a relevant context like seeing someone vaping or seeing an advertisement about it.

— David Shafran, MD

"Because nicotine is an addictive substance, it can and has been found to be a gateway to traditional cigarette use, the long-term effects of which are studied and known quite well," Dr. Shafran says.

Vape pens may seem cool to teens because of how easy they are to use, but they're still a dangerous entryway into addiction. The physical effects on the lungs from vaporized cannabis is the most pronounced danger of using vape pens, according to experts, which is why parents should be ready to intervene if their teens have shown an interest in vaping.

How to Talk to Teens About Vaping

It's important for parents to have open lines of communication with their teens, especially if vaping is a habit they're starting to pick up. Dr. Shafran recommends not to bombard teens with what he calls a "preachy" tone but instead to bring up the topic as needed.

"The best way to approach teenagers is never by making a speech," he says. "It's better to have the conversation in bits and pieces, ideally within a relevant context like seeing someone vaping or seeing an advertisement about it."

Lim seconded the necessity for parents to have a discussion with their children if they start to use e-cigarettes, emphasizing the possibility of addiction that could lead to health problems.

Parents can also reach out to their child's healthcare provider if the concern becomes too much to handle. They will have ample facts about the risks of cannabis vaping that they can share. They can also guide parents toward helping their teens knock the habit.

Dr. Shafran encouraged parents to reach out for medical help as soon as it becomes a concern and to also make sure they're setting the right example at home. "If you yourself are a smoker, stop. Lead by example," he says.

What This Means For You

As the data shows, more and more teens are turning to vaping as a habit. It's important for parents to have a conversation with their kids now about the dangers of vaping to either encourage their teens to quit or not start at all. Understanding the risks involved with vaping is key for parents so they can properly share that with their children. If it becomes too much for parents to handle, medical professionals are there to help.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lim CCW, Sun T, Leung J, et al. Prevalence of Adolescent Cannabis Vaping: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of US and Canadian StudiesJAMA Pediatr. Published online October 25, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.4102

  2. Boyd CJ, McCabe SE, Evans-Polce RJ, Veliz PT. Cannabis, vaping, and respiratory symptoms in a probability sample of U.S. youth. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2021;69(1):149-152.

  3. Chadi N, Minato C, Stanwick R. Cannabis vaping: Understanding the health risks of a rapidly emerging trendPaediatrics & Child Health. 2020;25(1). doi:10.1093/pch/pxaa016

  4. NIDA. Is nicotine addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse website.

By Hedy Phillips
Hedy Phillips is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience covering topics ranging from parenting tips to lifestyle hacks.