The Essentials

A quick overview of what vaping is, why youth use, and how e-cigarettes and vaping affect their health. Accurate, up-to-date, clinically relevant information on vaping in under 5 minutes.

What is Vaping?

Read Time: 3 minutes, 36 seconds

Defining Vaping

36 seconds

"Vaping" is the act of heating up chemicals from an e-cigarette/vaping device such as a pod-based or disposable e-cigarette and breathing in the aerosol created from that process.

E-cigarettes/vapes create an aerosol,1 not a harmless water “vapor.”

The active chemicals inhaled are either nicotine extracted from the tobacco plant or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the cannabis plant.

See image to the right for a sampling of the other chemicals produced by e-cigarettes/vapes.

See below for more on the types of devices youth use to vape.

E-cigarette products have transformed from originally looking like traditional cigarettes to now resembling a colorful and sleek USB flash drive.

The changes in appearance have not been the only major shift in e-cigarette design. Newer e-cigarettes/pod vapes include more nicotine2 as well as different types of nicotine (salt-based instead of freebase) which increases the potential for addiction.3 

Why Do Youth Start Vaping?

Read Time: 1 minute, 41 seconds

Reported Reasons

54 seconds

Based on 2019 NYTS survey responses from middle and high school students, who ever tried using e-cigarettes, the most common reasons for e-cigarette use were:

 “I was curious about them” (55.3%).

 “Friend or family member used them” (30.8%).

 “They are available in flavors, such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate” (22.4%).

 “I can use them to do tricks” (21.2%).

In the same survey nearly 9 out of 10 high school students reported being exposed to a tobacco/nicotine advertisement or promotion from at least one source.

Young people exposed to an e-cigarette advertisement are more likely to use an e-cigarette/vape product than young people who are not exposed.1,2

The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting youth as potential long-term (addicted) customers. E-cigarette companies are re-using Big Tobacco’s playbook to attract youth.

The e-cigarette industry has spent $114 million in advertising in 2014.3 E-cigarette companies have used bright colors; enticing flavors; sleek, stylish, discrete devices; and influencer/social media advertising to entice youth.4

Such effective advertising can be difficult for a young person to resist.

Why Do Youth Continue Vaping?

Read Time: 48 seconds

Pod-Based E-Cig Systems Are Optimized for Addiction

25 seconds

E-cigarettes deliver high amounts of nicotine in each puff.

Companies include additives to reduce the harsh throat hit of tobacco and add flavors to enhance the taste and appeal of vapes.

Flavors mask the harsh taste of tobacco and can give the false impression that they are not harmful.

Devices are small, easy to hide in plain view, made to be used discreetly.

Vaping-induced nicotine addiction often leads young people to use other tobacco products, including cigarettes.

When asked for their reason for vaping, many young people will say it helps reduce stress and anxiety, sleep, and concentration.

Research shows that vaping can actually increase stress and anxiety for youth who vape. 

Evidence for cannabis positively affecting sleep and/or concentration is very limited, and self-prescribed use can have negative unintended consequences, including mood disturbances and THC dependence.

Why Don't Youth Quit Vaping?

Read Time: 1 minute, 29 seconds

What are the Best Ways to Help Youth Quit or Not Start?

30 seconds

Prevention is critical!

Risk of addiction is high, especially for nicotine, once youth start because of the exposure to potentially very high doses of the active drug. 

A non-judgmental, strength-based approach that includes motivational interviewing to nudge youth toward behavior change is the most effective initial approach.

For highly dependent/addicted young patients, nicotine replacement and other tobacco cessation approaches are being studied.

The health effects that most concern adults often do not resonate with youth. 

Vaping-related messages to which young users do respond include:

Vaping can have a detrimental impact on athletic performance.

Vapes (especially disposable devices) create hazardous e-waste and can contribute to environmental degradation/contamination.

Tobacco/e-cigarette/vaping companies try to trick specific groups (youth, communities of color, low-income communities) into vaping, becoming addicted to nicotine or cannabis, and giving up their much-needed financial resources to these companies until they die prematurely from the harmful effects of these harmful products.

Standing up to and against greedy people and companies that benefit from harming others is courageous and cool; getting tricked into using the harmful products those companies sell is not so cool.

Looking More Into the Issue

An in-depth visual walkthrough of the evolution, landscape, and impact of these devices.

Why Do We Even Call it an E-Cigarette?

Vaping devices originally looked like cigarettes and have evolved to now look like everyday tech products, making tobacco usage more discreet and harder to detect.


Plastics, metals, and toxins left behind from e-cigarette waste poses a danger to wildlife and humans and further contaminates our communities. This issue is comparable yet different to our continuous effort to combat cigarette waste.

The Colors, Flavors, and Health Claims

Research shows that young people are attracted to the design, flavors and colors of e-cigarette/vape products. Click the plus signs below to see what these devices look like.