Vaping: What parents should know

Vaping is now a common method of consuming nicotine. According to the charity Action on Smoking and Health, in 2022, 7.0% of 11-17 year-olds were users, compared to 3.3% in 2021 and 4.1% in 2020. However, its popularity sheds light on possible risks.

A “vape”, often known as an electronic cigarette, is a device that heats a liquid to produce vapour that you inhale. Vape pens and e-cigarettes are examples of common vaping devices. While is said to be an alternative to cigarettes, its health risks must be examined.

If you suspect that your child has started vaping, or want to know how vaping works, read the guide below.

woman vaping

How does vaping work?

Vaping devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. Devices heat an “e-liquid” (or “vape juice”) which may contain flavourings and other substances. Heating this liquid produces a flavoured aerosol by-product. This liquid gives the user nicotine through a mouthpiece that is breathed into the lungs and then ejected through the mouth or nose.

Inhaling any material that is not naturally present in the body can have a negative impact on the functioning of the lungs, heart, and blood. While the effects of cigarette smoke on cardiovascular function have been thoroughly investigated and found to be overwhelmingly negative, fewer long-term studies exist on vaping, since vaping is a relatively new phenomenon.

What effects does nicotine have on the body?

Nicotine enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body as soon as it is consumed. The immediate result is elevated blood pressure and heart rate. A person with cardiovascular problems who consumes too much nicotine may experience health repercussions.

What is more, nicotine is known to worsen dental health. It can contribute to:

Is vaping worse for your health than smoking?

Despite increasing worries regarding the relationship between vaping and hospitalisations, these can be mostly blamed on e-liquids that contain Vitamin E and THC, both of which are not often found in publicly available vape devices in the UK.


An independent study performed by Public Health England discovered that e-cigarettes are 95% less dangerous than cigarettes – but once more, the long-term effects are unknown, so this is calculated based on the lack of certain chemicals found in cigarette smoke, such as tar and carbon monoxide.


Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, at least 70 of which are carcinogenic. E-liquid, on the other hand, includes a fraction of these chemicals – but the number is not zero. Furthermore, vaping incites particular health concerns related to the levels of nicotine it delivers. In extreme cases, nicotine can have adverse effects on people with cardiovascular issues, or those who mix it with intensive exercise. As such, the dangers of nicotine must be understood and aligned with the individual’s health before it can be judged to be safe.

What can I do if my child vapes?

Begin by asking your child whether they have tried vaping in a non-judgemental, caring manner. You want to initiate dialogue, not repress it. Even if you don’t believe your children vape, discuss it with them so they understand how dangerous it is.


Signs that your child may be vaping include:

  • New health issues arising, such as coughing or wheezing
  • E-cigarette accessories, such as cartridges or other pen-shaped products
  • New odours (you might notice fruity or sweet scents)


As with any addictive substance, it is vital for any parent to discuss the risks with their child. If your child is over 18, and they wish to use vaping as a tool to make the switch from smoking, it is vital that they choose a reputable seller of vaping products which are thoroughly tested and manufactured in the UK.

Beware of disposable vapes

Disposable vaping is one of the most likely ways your child may be exposed to vaping. The small, brightly coloured devices are currently trending and are therefore a highly sought-after status symbol for under-18s. It has been noted in multiple surveys that in some areas of Britain, as many as one in five 15-year-olds have tried or regularly use disposable vapes.

Because of their high demand, a number of illegal untested versions of disposables have hit UK shelves. As these are not legal due to Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) laws (rules that enforce the safety of all vaping products before they can be sold) they are not being tested properly so we cannot know as consumers what is inside them.


These illegal versions can be spotted by:

  • Being much larger in size than other disposables
  • Saying they can deliver anything over 500-600 puffs (1000-3000 puffs are common examples)
  • Containing any nicotine level above 2% (equivalent to 20mg, the legal UK limit)

Even in legal disposables that have been tested, the e-liquid inside is very smooth, meaning your child could vape it quite easily without realising they are inhaling the maximum legal limit of nicotine that can be sold – equivalent to 50 cigarettes per 500 puff bar. While 2% may not sound like much, it is very strong.


Where are children getting disposable vapes?

Underage sale is a big issue in the UK right now. There have been multiple reports from Trading Standards that show children have been:

  • Buying them online using fake accounts to avoid age verification
  • Buying them from small retailers like corner shops
  • Buying them in supermarkets despite supposedly stricter controls
  • Being given them by older youths, or from friends in schools

Speak up

If you are worried about your children vaping, whether it is at home, at school or out and about with their friends, speak up and do not be afraid to ask questions; you are not alone, millions of households in the UK are dealing with this challenge, and there is help and guidance out there to help you understand the true risks and how to handle them.


Action on Smoking and Health has recently produced special guidance to help schools properly develop vaping policies in schools to protect and educate pupils and teachers alike – speak to your child’s school about this and ensure they are doing everything they can in line with this new guidance to keep your children safe and vape-free, they may even provide advice for you at home.

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