Originally published: May 2022

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Vaping rates have surged among young people recently. As a parent or caregiver, it’s natural to want to learn more and to wonder how to support your child. In this edition, we’ll answer common questions about vaping and offer tips for fact-based, meaningful conversations.

What is vaping?

Vaping is a common term for using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), devices that heat liquid containing nicotine, flavours, and chemicals to create an aerosol. When someone vapes, they inhale the aerosol into their lungs, and exhale it into the air. Vaping mimics the experience of smoking conventional cigarettes. 

E-cigarettes go by different names, like e-cigs, vapes, vape pens, mods, or e-hookahs. They’re also known by brand names. In this article, we’ll call them vapes.

What do vapes look like?

Vapes come in different shapes and sizes. Disposable vapes look the most like cigarettes. Rechargeable ones look more like pens or USB flash drives, which makes them easy to conceal. Some vapes are hidden in stealth products, like watches, hoodies, or gaming devices. Vapes have batteries, a heating element, a mouthpiece, and a place to hold vape liquid.

What is a vape liquid?

Vape liquid is a mix of chemicals, flavours, and different levels of nicotine. It usually comes in small pre-filled or refillable cartridges or pods. Vape liquid goes by names like e-juice, e-liquid, vape juice, vape liquid, or oil. It often has flavours that entice kids and teens, like fruits, candies, tropical drinks, or desserts.

How harmful is vaping?

Vaping is relatively new, so scientists are still learning about its long-term effects on health. Here’s what we know right now:

  • Most vapes have nicotine, which alters brain development and can affect memory and concentration. Nicotine is also highly addictive. It causes intense cravings and nasty withdrawal symptoms. Young people tend to get hooked on nicotine more easily than adults.
  • Both vaping liquid and the aerosol created by vaping contain harmful substances. Some are known to cause cancer and lung disease.
  • In rare cases, defective vapes have caused fires and explosions. Vaping comes with a risk of burns and other serious injury.
  • Young people who vape may be more likely to start smoking than those who don’t vape.
Is vaping illegal?

Vaping is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 in Alberta. There are fines for minors who possess or use vaping products, and for adults who sell or give vaping products to minors. This matters because most teens who vape report getting vapes and e-juice from their acquaintances, friends, and family.

How common is vaping in young people?*

The vaping rate among young people in Alberta has spiked recently. In 2014-15, 8% of Alberta students in grades 10-12 reported vaping in the last month. In 2018-19, that number jumped to 30%.1

Research shows that vaping is also a concern among younger students. In 2018-19, 23% of students in grades 7-9 said that they had tried vaping.2

What do young people have to say about why they vape?*

Research tells us that kids and teens often underestimate the harms related to vaping. As well, teens say they vape because it’s enjoyable or like the buzz it gives them. Others vape out of curiosity or to try different flavours. Some vape because they believe it will help them reduce stress, or help them fit in with friends.2

How can I talk to my kids about vaping?

Talking about vaping isn’t a one-time thing. Think of it as a conversation that happens in bits and pieces. With time and practice, talking about vaping will strengthen the relationship you have with your child, and boost the chances they’ll come to you with questions or when they need help. Here are some tips for respectful conversations:

  • Talk about vaping when it comes up in real time—like when you see it on TV or when you drive by a vape shop. Ask open-ended questions like what have you heard about vaping?
  • Get your child thinking about the consequences of vaping in ways that are meaningful to them. For example, try talking about how vaping could affect the amount of money they have, their sport goals, or their friendships.
  • Help your child spot vaping-related advertising in movies, music, video games, and the like. Talk about what’s being shown, and why. The tobacco industry is known for using unethical tactics to persuade young people to smoke or vape.
  • Have conversations about what it means to be an independent thinker, and to make good decisions. Help your child reflect on their values and judgments. This boosts their ability to resist the influences around them, like pressure from peers.

If you find that your child won’t engage in conversations about vaping with you, make sure they have a trusted, supportive adult they can talk to—for example, a teacher, coach, Elder, or faith leader.

What should I do if I find out my child is vaping?

Tell your child that you love and care about them, and that you’re there to help. Use open-ended questions to get a feel for why they’re vaping, like tell me some of the reasons you vape. Listen to their answers, and be there to support them. Try not to criticize or lecture.

If your child needs help to quit vaping, talk to your health care provider or call 811 to speak with a Registered Nurse. If you need support to quit vaping or smoking, go to AlbertaQuits for information on phone-based quit counselling, text messaging, support groups, and more.

For more information, go to:

1Government of Alberta, 2021. Addressing the health harms of smoking and vaping.

2Government of Canada, 2020. Detailed tables for the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 2018-2019.

*Research in younger children is limited.

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