Vaping and Children’s Health 2023

By Ashley Barnes, M.S.

What is vaping?

Vaping is synonymous with e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) and has increased in popularity over the last decade. According to a description from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • E-cigarettes/vapes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air.
  • E-cigarettes/vapes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid.
  • Some e-cigarettes/vapes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not look like other tobacco products.
  • E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).”
  • Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called “vaping.”

Big tobacco companies have marketed vaping as a “safer” tool to assist people in quitting tobacco products. Vaping has also been marketed to young people in the same sinister way that tobacco companies marketed their products to children in the 1990s, like when the “Joe Camel” cartoon character was created to heighten tobacco’s appeal for kids. It is marketed in “fun” flavors like bubblegum, blue raspberry, tropical mango, etc. 

However, vaping is neither “safe” nor “fun,” especially when we look at emerging research.

Research on Vaping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 2,807 cases of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and 68 deaths attributed to that condition in 2020 (2023). 

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance that can harm adolescent brain development (which continues into the early to mid-20s); using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control (CDC, 2023). Furthermore, e-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine (CDC, 2023).

People have been poisoned by breathing, swallowing, or absorbing e-cigarette/vape liquid through their skin or eyes. Nationally, approximately “50% of calls to poison control centers for e-cigarettes are for kids 5 years of age or younger” (CDC, 2023).

Though e-cigarettes have been promoted as an aid to help people quit smoking, “e-cigarettes have not received Food and Drug Administration approval as smoking cessation devices. A recent study found that most people who intended to use e-cigarettes to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to use traditional and e-cigarettes” (Johns Hopkins, 2023). 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 2.55 million U.S. middle and high school students reported current (past 30-day) e-cigarette use in 2022, which includes 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students (Cooper, et al., 2022). 

New research released by VicHealth and Quit reports that e-cigarette retailers are advertising vaping products on social media specifically designed for teenagers to easily hide from parents and teachers.

Vaping and Mental Health.

Substance use and mental health often go hand-in-hand. When people are addicted to nicotine and stop using it, their brains and bodies have to adjust to not having the substance, resulting in temporary symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. These symptoms often entail irritability, feeling anxious or depressed, restlessness, problems concentrating, trouble sleeping, and craving nicotine. People may keep using tobacco products to help relieve these symptoms (2023). 

Here are some other vaping and mental health facts as provided by the CDC:

  • Youth e-cigarette and cigarette use have been associated with mental health symptoms such as depression, according to emerging research.
  • Youth may turn to vaping to try to deal with stress or anxiety, creating a cycle of nicotine dependence. But nicotine addiction can be a source of stress.
  • What may start as social experimentation can become an addiction.
    • The most common reason U.S. middle and high school students give for trying an e-cigarette is “a friend used them.”
    • The most common reason youth give for continuing to use e-cigarettes is “I am feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed” (CDC, 2023).

Though researchers are still learning about the impacts of quitting vaping on children and teen’s mental health, quitting smoking cigarettes is associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, as well as improved quality of life and mood (CDC, 2023).  

Mental Health Concerns in Children and Adolescents.

Though many people reflect on childhood as being a care-free time, children are not immune to mental health concerns that plague adults. Some of the most common mental health concerns in children include:

  • Anxiety: The CDC reports that about 9% of children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety; still, this doesn’t even reflect all children who struggle with anxiety, just merely those who have been evaluated and diagnosed (CDC, 2023). Signs of childhood anxiety may include ruminating thoughts, situational avoidance that may impact social engagement or school attendance, and panic attacks.
  • Behavior Problems: Roughly 9% of 3-17-year-olds struggle with behavioral concerns that warrant a formal diagnosis (CDC, 2023). Those who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder may disrespect property, engage in harmful acts, or break serious rules. This behavior can be exacerbated by observance or exposure to crime, violence, or neglect.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): According to the CDC, around 10% of children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD can look like excessive fidgeting and talking, distractibility, and inattention. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls and the average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 years of age (CDC, 2021).
  • Depression: The CDC also reports that approximately 4% of 3 to 17-year-olds have been diagnosed with depression (CDC, 2023). Children experiencing depressive episodes may struggle with too much or too little sleep, changes in appetite, lack of interest in their favorite activities, irritability, and suicidality. 

How to Help.

Support systems are crucial to the wellbeing of our youth. Involving and strengthening a support system of teachers, therapists, coaches, friends, and family members can bolster a child’s support network in a way that accommodates for and works with their needs. Support can look like parents/caregivers having conversations with children/teens about the dangers of vaping, meeting with a physician to help children/teens safely taper off of nicotine, and setting a good example by not using e-cigarettes/vapes.

Further, good relationships with parents/caregivers is one of the strongest protective factors against the worsening of mental health disorders. Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders amongst children, only about 20% of children struggling with emotional, mental, or behavioral disorders receive care from a specialized mental health care provider (CDC, 2023). Seeking support from a sensitive, caring mental health professional can be life changing for children who are moving through mental health challenges. 

Child and adolescent psychiatrists can evaluate children, identify presenting problems and diagnoses, develop a treatment plan, and prescribe medication to help manage their symptoms. Child psychotherapists can support children in developmentally appropriate ways such as helping emotional expression through play therapy or talk therapy. Additionally, it is important that parents or caretakers be involved in the treatment process for the best outcomes. 

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists at the Mental Health Center.

  • Daniel Son, MD:
    • Dr. Daniel Son is unique in having completed formal fellowship training in both Child & Adolescent and Addiction Psychiatry. He has a particular interest in the treatment of severe mental illness and adolescents with addiction issues. Dr. Son completed his medical degree at Loma Linda University and completed his Psychiatry residency and fellowships at the University of Louisville.
    • Dr. Son focuses on providing thorough diagnostic interviews and providing medication management services. Dr. Son has received numerous awards during his training including the Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award, the Eli Lilly Chief Resident Leadership Program Award, and has several clinical and education awards.
  • Candyce DeLoatch, MD:
    • Dr. DeLoatch is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in General Adult and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. DeLoatch received her undergraduate education at the University of Maryland College Park and her medical school training at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
    • She completed both residency and fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. She also received advanced training in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Dr. DeLoatch has also provided consultation and liaison services for UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, and has spent the last several years working in community mental health providing treatment for foster youth.

If you seek support from a mental health professional, please contact us at the Mental Health Center for sensitive, attentive care.




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Data and statistics about ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 31, 2023, from 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Data and statistics on children’s mental health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 31, 2023, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

Cooper, M., Park-Lee, E., Ren, C., Cornelius, M., Jamal, A., Cullen, K.A. (2022). Notes from the Field: E-cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:1283–1285. DOI:

Johns Hopkins Medicine (2023). 5 Vaping Facts You Need to Know. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

VicHealth (2023). How Vaping Advertisers Target Young People. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from