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My teen is vaping. What should I say? 3 expert tips for approaching ‘the talk’

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You dropped your daughter off at her friend’s house and while cleaning the car, you find what looks like a USB stick in the passenger seat. It’s a disposable vape.

You’ve seen the news. Vapes or e-cigarettes are harmful, but they are becoming increasingly popular among people her age.

You call to ask if the vape is hers. That’s it and she’s been vaping off and on for a few weeks now. You say you will talk about it later.

But what are you actually going to say?



Read more: Should I give my teen alcohol? A sip, the whole can or none at all?


1. Know your facts

It is important to have accurate and up-to-date information about vaping. Evidence-based resources for parents and carers in Australia include:

  • the evidence-based sources of the Lung Foundation

  • factsheets, videos and webinars from NSW Health that help dispel any misconceptions about vaping. This includes whether vapors are likely to contain nicotine and the accuracy of the labeling

  • Quit Victoria’s resources for parents and teens, including quick guides that cover the essentials of vaping, including busting a few myths.

A common theme in such parent resources is to highlight the reality of vaping in terms of how many teens actually do it, what current health data shows, and why it’s more than just media coverage of incidents in schools.

In a nutshell, vapes are easily accessible, teen vaping is common and it is being normalized in this age group.

Our own unpublished research with young people aged 16-26 provides some insights into this. We’ve heard vaping is a “clean alternative” to smoking (it’s not), and a “social activity” at school or parties. A young participant has seen others “nic sick” or nauseous from vaporized nicotine.

There is mounting evidence pointing to physical health harms and unknown mental health risks of vaping. There’s no reason for a teen to vape, even if adults took this approach to smoking cessation. Many vapes contain nicotine, whatever the label says, with the possibility of dependence or addiction.

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Read more: How can we reverse the vaping crisis among young Australians? Enforce the rules


2. Listen more than speak

It can be tempting to lecture about the dangers of vaping. But conversations are more likely to be effective if they are clear, open, constructive, and thinking about how to focus on discussing health concerns.

It can be tempting to give a lecture. But other approaches are more likely to work.
Kindel Media/Pexels, CC BY-SA

So use some of these tips, based on those from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation:

  • approach the conversation calmly, during a shared activity, such as walking the dog

  • consider questions your teen may ask and how you want to respond

  • don’t assume, avoid accusations, show confidence

  • no judgement; really listen to their perspective (listen more than speak) and respect that they have a different and unique worldview and opinions. Understand their social life and create an environment where they can discuss this with you

  • don’t exaggerate, stick to the facts. Remember that your teen may have already received vaping and health resources from school and be aware of the health effects and uncertainties about long-term health risks of vaping

  • tailor your conversation based on whether your teen vapes occasionally, is addicted, and/or wants help quitting

  • respect their privacy

  • show their health is your focus.



Read more: ​​​​A parent’s guide to why teens make bad decisions


3. Support stopping

But what if it goes beyond trying vaping, and your teen feels they’re dependent or addicted?

Services like Quitline, which have traditionally provided advice to people trying to quit smoking, are increasingly getting calls from teens struggling with vaping-related nicotine dependence.

Parents can also call Quitline (Phone: 13 78 48) to schedule the talk with a teen about vaping. They can also contact a primary care physician to help their teen manage nicotine dependence and related effects.


Additional vaping resources for parents and teens are available in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Australia Capital Territory and Northern Territory.