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Information and facts about vaping

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Raising a teenager Teens and risk-taking behaviour

In Scotland, it’s illegal to sell vapes or e-cigarettes to anyone under 18, or to buy them for someone who’s under 18. But this doesn’t stop young people from getting hold of them. Here you can find out more about the risks of vaping, how you can talk to your child about it and what to do to support them if they’ve taken it up.

In this short video, Mark Hunter, project officer at Fast Forward, shares advice to help you talk to your child about vaping.

What is vaping?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vapes) are battery-powered devices which heat a liquid that becomes a vapour you inhale. This liquid often contains nicotine and flavourings.

They were originally intended to help people stop smoking, and are only meant to be used for a short time. But they’re now being used by young people who have never actually smoked. 

Is vaping bad for you?

Vaping is much less harmful than smoking. However, although we don’t yet fully understand the long-term effects vaping has on our health, evidence shows that e-cigarettes or vapes are not harm-free.

  • Vapes contain nicotine, and may quickly become harmfully addictive for young people.
  • Young people can quickly become addicted to nicotine, and this can affect their concentration and impact their ability to learn and study. Nicotine withdrawal can also disrupt sleep and may cause headaches. It can also affect their mental health and mood.
  • While the long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, it’s thought they can have a negative impact on the health of the heart and lungs. Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians all state that vapes should only be used by adults who smoke as an aid to giving up smoking.

You can find out more about the harmful effects of vaping on the NHS Inform website.

It’s also worth noting that, although vapes can seem cheap compared to cigarettes, using them regularly can quickly add up to a lot of money. 

In this short video, Professor Linda Bauld discusses the impact of vaping on young people.

Why do young people try vaping?

As our page on risk-taking behaviour explains, young people’s brains are still developing. This means they can’t always think through the consequences of the things they do. As a result, they’re more likely to try things like vaping out of curiosity or ‘for fun’, without considering the harm they could be doing to themselves. 

  • Vapes are colourful and come in lots of different flavours, which can seem appealing to young people. They don’t seem scary or harmful, as cigarettes do.
  • Many young people really want to fit in with their friends and are scared of being rejected by them. This means they can sometimes be persuaded to do things they don’t particularly want to do or know they shouldn’t do, so as not to feel left out. 
  • In some cases, young people try vaping to help them feel less anxious or stressed.

Signs your child may be vaping

Brightly coloured vapes

Brightly coloured vapes

It’s usually fairly easy to tell if your child's been smoking, as the smell is a real giveaway. But it can be harder to tell if they’re vaping. Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Many vapes have sweet flavours like vanilla or bubble gum, so be aware of smells like that.
  • If your child seems more moody, jittery or irritable than usual, it could be a sign of nicotine addiction. This may also disrupt their sleep and cause headaches.
  • Vaping can dry out your mouth, so if your child seems thirsty all the time, this could be another sign.
  • Vaping can also make you cough more than usual.

In addition, make sure you know what vaping devices look like. Some can look like pens or flash drives for computers that be easily hidden in plain view. 

Tips for starting a conversation about vaping

What to do if you think your child may be vaping

Getting help and support

If you’re concerned about your child vaping, you don’t have to cope with the situation on your own.

  • Childline offers advice and help for young people to give up vaping.
  • Quit Your Way Scotland offers support to anyone looking to give up vaping or smoking, no matter how old they are. You or your child can chat to an adviser on the helpline or online.

If you discover that a business has been selling vapes to under 18s, you can report them to Trading Standards. You can find out more about how to do this on the Citizens Advice Scotland website.

Last updated: 26 Feb, 2024