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Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances. Image courtesy of patrisyu /

Electronic Cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to use other substances.
Image courtesy of patrisyu /

Parents, you may or may not be aware of a new trend among teens and young adults.  They are called electronic cigarettes.  They are also known as vapes, vapor cigarettes, e-cigarettes, mods, and e-cigs.  These are devices that create steam instead of smoke.  The steam is inhaled, and whatever chemicals are mixed in with the steam go into the body.  In general e-cigarettes are used to get nicotine into the body, but they are also used for many other things.


The main intent of electronic cigarettes is to help someone quit smoking.  The belief is that inhaling steam is far less damaging to the body than inhaling smoke.  Someone trying to end a cigarette addiction might buy an e-cig in order to use a plan that helps them quit smoking.  They would buy various levels of nicotine to put into their electronic cigarette.  They would start out at a higher dose, and then gradually drop down to a lower and lower dose.  At some point the dosage is so low they can completely quit needing nicotine.  This has been successful for a number of people.


However, as is true with all things, there is a way to abuse the vapor cigarettes.  One thing I have heard repeatedly from my teenage clients is that they would never try a traditional cigarette because they are disgusted by the smell, taste and health effects of smoke.  However, they do not see any problem with trying an electronic cigarette.  In fact, many of those who would not normally smoke, do use vapes.  This is exposing teens to nicotine who probably would never have otherwise tried it.  If they are exposed often enough to nicotine, they risk becoming hooked on one of the most addictive substances in the world.  The bottom line of what I am trying to say is that electronic cigarettes very well can be a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes for adolescents.


The other way e-cigarettes are commonly abused is through the use of “dabs.”  Dabs are little bits of wax that contain cannabinoids.  I’ve also heard of people buying oils for the electronic cigarettes that contain cannabinoids.  Dabs and these oils essentially allow a person to get high from marijuana using an electronic cigarette.  The problem with this for parents is that it doesn’t leave a smell, so it is very, very difficult to detect when your teenager is doing it.  Marijuana is an addictive substance, despite what you may have heard or read.  Numerous studies have shown there are deleterious effects to the developing adolescent’s brain when they abuse marijuana.  Vapor cigarettes have made it easier for teenagers to get high without being caught.  Also, teens seem generally more willing to try marijuana when it is in an electronic cigarette because teenagers perceive electronic cigarettes to be less unhealthy than traditional methods of smoking.


The reason I wanted to write about this is because a lot of parents are not yet aware of electronic cigarettes.  So, now that you know, include this on the list of things that you ask your teenager.  You probably already ask them if they ever drink with friends.  Now also ask if they ever use an electronic cigarette, or if any of their friends do.  I’m willing to bet at the least one of their friends uses one.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT