The Vaping Epidemic

Vaping is a public health concern of epidemic size identified by several health agencies, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, The Public Health Administration of Canada, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2.1 million youth currently use e-cigarettes.

What can you do as an adult to help prevent vaping and intervene if you know a child is vaping?

Be Curious

  • Ask children why they started vaping. Ask children what benefit they are currently receiving from vaping.

Many children start vaping because of peer pressure and the desire to fit in, or they may be interested in all the different flavored vaping liquids available to them. They come in fun flavors, have sleek, enticing packaging, and can be charged in a USB port. Youth who vape have been led to believe that vapes are much less harmful than cigarettes.

  • Consider a child’s experience of stress and trauma.

There is research linking stress and trauma exposure to the use of e-cigarettes. Children who have experienced the following are more likely to vape:

  • Emotional abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to verbal interpersonal violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental problems with police
  • Poverty

Meet unmet needs.

Trauma and stress experiences are often associated with children who do not have their needs met. Needs include:

  • Secure attachment to at least one caring, stable adult.
  • Belief that they possess an area of strength, talent, or ability.
  • Emotional awareness and the ability to manage emotions and behavior.
  • Feeling valuable to others.

If you identify an area with an unmet need, try to meet that need through experiences. This builds resilience.

  • Connect with the child. Notice the child. Let them know you are their champion.
  • Point out areas of strength and talent. Encourage the child to engage in experiences where they can practice their abilities.
  • Co-regulate and teach the child emotional awareness and ways to regulate their feelings and behavior when overwhelmed.
  • Provide children opportunities to help you or others.


Talk to children about why e-cigarettes are harmful to them. It’s never too late to quit. Some children are not aware that most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm brain development. Exposure to nicotine negatively affects a child’s learning, mood, and attention. The aerosol from vapes can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals (nickel, tin, or lead)
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Flavorings with chemicals that are linked to severe heart and lung disease.
  • When addicted to nicotine, it is hard to stop.
  • Some kids turn to vaping to try to deal with stress, but vaping often becomes a source of stress.

We must remember that vaping, like all maladaptive behaviors, is a clue. It is a child’s way of communicating what they need most. For some children, the need is to feel a sense of belonging and connection among their friends. For others, vaping gives them something to do because they do not feel like they are good at anything else. Many believe vaping will help them regulate emotions that they have never been taught how to manage. Others may feel like offering a vape to a peer is a way to make them feel like they have value to others.