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Signs Your Child is Using Nicotine and How You Can Help

Published in Addiction Services, Tobacco Treatment, For the Health of It Author: Meghan Bown, LSW, Population Health

The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey showed that one in five (19.2%) Minnesota youth was currently using e-cigarettes and 27% had no intention of quitting. This is scary. Fortunately, research does show that youth who receive caring guidance from a concerned adult are more likely to quit. As concerned adults, we can look for the signs, provide the facts and steer kids in the right direction.

What are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery devices are devices that heat liquid, rather than burn solids like a conventional cigarette, creating a vapor that is inhaled. Many parents have no idea about the different types of e-cigarettes. Disposable e-cigarettes come prefilled with e-liquid, and the entire device is designed to be discarded after a single use. These often resemble the look and shape of a traditional cigarette. Other devices, like JUUL and Suorin, have “pods” or “cartridges” that hold an e-salt or e-liquid. Some pods or cartridges come pre-filled and are replaced after use, while others can be refilled by the user. Tank or mod-type devices are refilled by users and are customizable, allowing the user to change the temperature or voltage, nicotine concentrations and add accessories to enhance the user experience. This type of device also is used with THC, the element of marijuana that gives the feeling of being “high.”

What You Need to Know About E-cigarettes

  • It is not just harmless water vapor. Vaping liquids contain heavy metals including nickel, lead, tin and other cancer-causing chemicals. These small particles are then inhaled deep into the lungs.
  • There is likely nicotine involved, even if the packaging says there is not. Due to the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes, makers do not have to release what level of nicotine is inside. A study found that although they advertise no nicotine, traces of it are typically found.

Vaping devices are small and often easy to hide. But you will likely see changes in your kids.

  • Vaping dries out mucus membranes in the mouth, throat and nose. When the mouth is dry, it makes certain flavors harder to enjoy. Is your youth looking for ways to add more flavor to foods, maybe more salt or spice than they typically would use?
  • Vaping turns off the immune system in the lungs and makes it harder to clean them up. Is your teen experiencing more illnesses than normal?
  • Most vapes that kids are using have a fruit or mint flavor. The aromas are sweeter and more flavorful than a conventional cigarette. Are there more fruity smells in your home than there used to be?
  • When the brain becomes addicted, it is hard to concentrate on anything else. Are you seeing behavior changes, mood swings and agitation? Are there suddenly changes in grades, unexcused absences or tardiness to class?

A typical pod found in a Juul is equivalent to the nicotine in 20 conventional cigarettes, and the e-salts were designed to send the nicotine directly to the brain. Nicotine can have significant negative impacts on the developing brains of children and young adults — anyone younger than 25. Kids’ brains are extremely sensitive to nicotine. Researchers have reported, only a small amount of nicotine can trigger an addiction stronger than the one to heroin or cocaine.

How Can You Help?

  • Start the conversation in a non-threatening way. If you are too upset, wait until you have calmed. Your goal is to help — not blame.
  • Listen and seek understanding. You want to meet him/her where he/she is at so that you can walk the journey together. Forcing your agenda will likely push him/her away.


  • CentraCare’s Tobacco Treatment Program provides both medication and counseling by specially trained providers. Visits can be done both in person and via telehealth.
  • Quit Partner is Minnesota’s free way to quit nicotine, including smoking, vaping and chewing. They can support your quit with one-on-one coaching and other helpful tools. Check out My Life, My Quit Teen Program for a program specifically designed for teens.