2nd June, 2023 — Smoking

Helping young people to quit vaping

Although it’s still a only a small proportion of Australian teenagers who are vaping, there may be parents at your club concerned about their young people’s use of nicotine.

Here’s some information and top tips that can be shared with parents to help their young people to quit.

What is vaping?

Vaping refers to the use of an e-cigarette that heats liquids and produces vapour, which is then inhaled, mimicking the act of smoking.

Some vapes contain nicotine and others don’t. Most contain a mixture of solvents, flavours, and other chemicals.

Vapes that contain nicotine are only legal with a prescription in Australia.1

But nicotine vapes are commonly sold illegally at tobacconist shops, convenience stores and online to people without a prescription.2

Misleadingly, the packaging often doesn’t state if a vape contains nicotine, even though many do.3

What are the risks of vaping?

Vapes can pose a risk to our health.

Certain ingredients in vapes have been linked to lung injuries, and they increase the risk of nicotine poisoning if not used correctly or if they are accessed by children.4, 5

And we know that nicotine may negatively affect teenage brain development, impacting learning, memory and attention.6

While vapes are less risky than smoking cigarettes in the short to medium term, we simply don’t know the long-term health impacts yet – so it’s hard to know if they’re safe.7

Why do some young people vape?

Young people use drugs, including nicotine, for a variety of reasons - and not all use leads to addiction.

Young people might use alcohol and other drugs – including vapes - to:

  • experiment
  • feel good
  • fit in
  • relax
  • cope with feelings of stress or anxiety.8, 9

Experimentation and risk-taking is a normal part of adolescent development.

It can help teenagers develop their identity, gain experience, and seek peer approval.10

Why can it be difficult to quit vaping?

Nicotine is highly addictive.

Repeated use causes changes in our brain’s reward pathways and alters parts of the brain involved in learning, stress and self-control.11 This can make it very difficult to stop using nicotine.

Vaping withdrawal symptoms

When someone stops using nicotine they go into withdrawal.

This can result in:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • cravings
  • having trouble concentrating
  • sleep problems
  • feeling sad or depressed.11

These symptoms usually peak in the first few days after stopping using nicotine and they start to reduce in the weeks following.

Supporting your young person to quit

If your young person is vaping, have an open conversation with them about the risks and impacts.

Try to stick to the facts and avoid judgment or assumptions.

Remind them that you care about them and are concerned about their health.

Challenge them on the idea that ‘everyone’ is doing it, as research shows this isn’t the case.12

If they’re open to stopping, or have tried but find it too difficult, there are some tips that can help.

  • Identify why they want to quit: having a good reason for quitting can help motivate someone when breaking a habit. Talk to them about why they want to stop, such as the negative health impacts, saving money or not wanting to be/become addicted.13
  • Think about the timing: talk about when a good time to stop might be. The day before a big exam may not be the best time to do so, as their stress levels are already high. But try not to delay too long, as it can become harder the longer someone is using nicotine.
  • Reducing or quitting suddenly: work out if they want to try reducing their vaping gradually or if they want to quit ‘cold turkey’. Talk about what might work best for them and how to overcome any obstacles they might encounter for each option.
  • Plan ahead: if your young person is using nicotine to cope with stress, help them identify some alternative coping skills. These could be things like going for a walk, listening to their favorite music, using a meditation app, or connecting with a supportive friend. Encourage them to think about situations or environments they might find triggering, such as a place or time they most frequently vape. Plan for how to avoid these triggers or use another coping strategy for when they arise.14
  • Empower them to say no: talk about how they can refuse a vape from a friend if offered. If they feel uncomfortable telling a friend their reason for quitting, help them come up with some excuses such as: ‘I don’t like it anymore’, ‘it gives me a headache’ or ‘I don’t want to waste my money’.12
  • Beating cravings: nicotine withdrawal can involve intense cravings, but there are ways to overcome them. Plan what they can do when they feel a craving, this might include things like:
  • reminding themselves of the reason why they quit, and that the craving will soon pass (usually in a few minutes)
  • distracting their brain by engaging in a hobby, getting some exercise or talking to a friend
  • chewing gum, or eating a healthy snack
  • using a stress ball, toy or pen to distract their hands
  • considering Nicotine Replacement Therapy, if cravings are too intense. NRT comes as chewing gum, mints or spray and is available at pharmacies and supermarkets. Make sure to talk to a GP about whether NRT might be suitable.14
  • Talk to the experts: book an appointment with a GP to get their advice, or call Quitline on 13 78 48 for expert advice on how to quit.
  • Prepare for lapses: even if their goal is to quit, lapses are very common and not a failure. Have a plan in place for what to do if they vape, such as someone to call for support, including Quitline. If they do lapse, try to be understanding and get them back on track by encouraging them and reminding them why they want to quit.

What if they don’t want to quit?

If your young person isn’t open to stopping vaping, or insists they aren’t/won’t become addicted, you can:

  • Remind them of the facts in a calm way.
  • Let them know that you care about them and are coming from a place of concern. Talk to them about reducing their vaping in the meantime; if they aren’t ready to stop completely.
  • Set and maintain rules and boundaries around vaping and let them know your expectations.
  • Try to avoid searching their room or belongings as this can erode trust between child and parent/carer.
  • Let them know that when they’re ready to quit or want to talk, you’ll be there for them.

For more parenting guidance and tips when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, see our ‘Talk About It’ parenting resource.

Help and resources

View references on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

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