Parents: talk to your kids about e-cigarettes

November 24, 2014 Elizabeth Meade, MD

Do you know what an e-cigarette is?  Does your child?  You may be surprised.  In 2012, 1.78 million U.S. students reported having used e-cigarettes.  And that number has only continued to increase.  Our communities have been slow to realize the impact of electronic cigarettes on our children, but this is an issue parents and pediatricians need to tackle head-on. 

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize a solution containing nicotine; this vaporized solution is then inhaled.  They have been marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, and in fact may have some benefits for select populations - such as those who are already traditional smokers and are attempting to quit.  However, because of how they are advertised, there is growing concern that they are seen as “healthy” and “no-harm” to adolescents and children.  In addition, youth are susceptible to accidental poisoning – the liquid nicotine used to refill the cigarettes can be dangerous or even deadly to younger children.  This liquid nicotine comes in flavors like “gummy bear”, “cotton candy”, and “popsicle”.  It is no surprise that children and teens would find these appealing and misunderstand that they are meant only for adults.

Here are some facts about nicotine and e-cigarettes:

  • Teens are more susceptible to nicotine addiction than adults. Symptoms of dependence can be seen within days to weeks of just intermittent use.
  • The younger someone is when he or she starts using nicotine, the more difficult it is to quit later.  About 3 of every 4 teen smokers becomes an adult smoker.
  • A recent study by the American Legacy Foundation reported that 73% of children age 12-17 were exposed to one e-cigarette company’s ads between June and November 2013.  These companies are marketing to children through print, television, and social media.  With about 10 new brands coming to market each month, the volume of advertising is staggering.
  • In 2013, more than 250,000 youth who had never smoked a traditional cigarette used electronic cigarettes.
  • Nicotine use during adolescence may result in lasting cognitive deficits.
  • Four years ago, poison control centers nationwide received about one call per month reporting exposure to e-cigarettes/liquid nicotine.  Today that number is over 200 calls per month.
  • One teaspoon of liquid nicotine can be lethal to a child, and even tinier amounts can cause them to become seriously ill.
  • Just one sip of the liquid can deliver the nicotine equivalent of over 100 cigarettes.

What can parents do to prevent nicotine poisoning or dependence?



  • Talk with your children about tobacco and e-cigarettes.  Ask what they know about these products and whether they have ever seen them, or have friends who use them.  Keep an open dialogue with your child and let them know they can always ask you questions about any substances.
  • If anyone in your home uses e-cigarettes, keep all parts and substances locked away so that children do not have access.  This is especially important for liquid nicotine.
  • Talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s use of e-cigarettes or nicotine products.
  • If your child may have been accidentally exposed to e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine, call the Poison Control Center and have them seen by a doctor right away.

  • For more information, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Association of Poison Control Centers pages.




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