Preventing kids and teens from smoking and vaping
Helping to prevent kids and teens from smoking and vaping starts with a talk with someone they can trust and who cares about their health and well-being. Parents, teachers, coaches, and other trusted adults can all initiate a conversation with a young person that makes a difference in their lives.
Not sure where to start? Read on to get the facts and tips to help make this conversation a little easier.
On this page
- Tips for talking with kids and teens about smoking and vaping
- Understanding kids and teens smoking and vaping
- Get support
Tips for talking with kids and teens about smoking and vaping
Before having a conversation, learn about the health effects of smoking and about vaping and its risks. Being understanding, non-judgmental, and empathetic about why they may be smoking or vaping. This can help them feel comfortable. Then, when the moment is right, offer to share what you have learned. Be patient and ready to listen. You may need to discuss it more than once. While it's best to have a talk before they start smoking or vaping, it's never too late – an open and caring conversation can go a long way to help them stop.
Adults who smoke or vape can also be a positive influence by sharing their insights and by not offering tobacco or vaping products to family or friends.
Equipped with the facts, talk with your teen about smoking and addiction and how hard it can be to quit.
Conversations about media literacy are important in helping kids and teens think critically about the various forms of media and messages they consume. Media literacy involves understanding how and why media is created.
For example, you can explain how media can influence audiences to think in a certain way about products or associate them to certain lifestyles. When kids and teens reflect on the goals behind messages they are more likely to recognize influential tactics, and make informed choices.
When you see someone smoking or vaping on social media, TV, or in a movie, start a discussion about how smoking and vaping is being portrayed. Watch for possible unrealistic or stereotypical situations that associate smoking or vaping with:
- rebellion (as a symbol for challenging authority);
- a way to relieve stress (as tension builds, stars reach for their cigarettes or vape);
- popularity and having fun in desirable social settings; or,
- a way of life that promotes glamour, recreation, excitement, sex appeal, vitality, or risk-taking.
Understanding kids and teens smoking and vaping
Cigarettes and most vaping products contain nicotine. Though smoking remains the riskiest and most harmful way for anyone to use nicotine, vaping nicotine also has certain risks.
Adolescence is a time of increased susceptibility to the harmful effects of nicotine, including physical dependence and addiction. Nicotine can interfere with healthy teen brain development. A person's brain continues developing into their mid-20s and young people can become dependent on nicotine with lower levels of exposure than adults.End note 1 Once a young person shows symptoms of physical dependence and/or addiction to nicotine, it can be hard to stop. While quitting smoking and quitting vaping can be difficult, it is possible and help is available.
It is also helpful to know that:
- Smoking tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death and has negative health impacts on people of all ages.End note 2End note 3
- Most people who currently smoke started before the age of 18.End note 4
- If you are an adult that has tried approved methods to quit and are still smoking, switching completely to vaping is a less harmful option than continuing to smoke.End note 5End note 6
- It is not safe for youth to use any nicotine, including cigarettes and vaping products.End note 1 Vaping products are relatively new and research into their long-term effects is ongoing. However, it is established that switching completely to vaping nicotine is less harmful than continuing to smoke.End note 5 The use of vaping for smoking cessation has only been studied in adults and there is no information currently available on the effectiveness in teens.
Learn more about quitting smoking.
Teen smoking in Canada
Smoking rates among teens have been in steady decline since the early 2000s. The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2021 reported a smoking prevalence of 1.1% among youth aged 12-17, compared with 2.5% in 2019.
In Canada, it is illegal to sell or provide tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Some provincial laws have increased this age to 19 or 21.
For more information, consult Smoking in Canada: What we know
Teen vaping in Canada
The Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey (CTNS) 2021 data shows that vaping rates have remained relatively stable since 2019 with around 13% of youth aged 15 to 19 reporting having vaped in the past 30 days. A majority of youth (61%) who vaped in the past 30 days have never tried a tobacco cigarette in their life.
In terms of reasons for past 30-day vaping, youth were more likely to report stress reduction (33%) in 2021 as the main reason for vaping compared to youth in 2019 (21%). This increase may indicate that youth are vaping in part to cope with stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other difficult situations, such as ongoing disruptions to education and workplaces. The survey data indicates other reasons for teen vaping include because they "enjoy it" (28%) and because they "wanted to try it" (24%).
CTNS 2021 data further shows that a majority of youth report using social sources like friends and family to obtain vaping devices (55%) and liquids (50%), rather than retail sources.
In Canada, it is illegal to sell or provide vaping products to anyone under the age of 18. Some provincial laws have increased this age to 19 or 21.
For more information, consult Vaping in Canada: What we know
What teens had to say about vaping
Our public opinion research with youth (aged 13-19) highlights that:
- The most common reasons youth report trying vaping are to reduce stress, because they enjoyed it; curiosity; and desire to fit in/social influence.End note 7End note 8End note 9
- The "head-rush" or "buzz" was cited as the "best part of vaping" among those vaping higher concentrations of nicotineEnd note 6 Note: there is now a maximum nicotine concentration of 20 mg/mL for vaping products marketed in Canada.
- Most youth vape in social situations (e.g., at school, parties, recreational areas) or when it is convenient; many teens who vape occasionally do not own a device. However, teens who vape regularly are just as likely to vape on their own (e.g., at home) as they would be to vape socially. As well, they often create opportunities to vape (e.g., bathroom breaks, vaping in the classroom, etc.).End note 6End note 8
If you or a loved one needs mental health or substance use support, please talk to your family doctor and reach out to family and friends for support. You can also access free and confidential mental health and addiction support throughout Canada. Help can be as easy as a click away.
Free quit and counselling, coaching and other services in your province or territory
For more information
- Regulating tobacco and vaping products
- Consider the Consequences of Vaping
- Youth vaping prevention resources
- Quitting smoking: Self-help guides and infographics
- Talking with teenagers about drugs
- Health Canada Experiences
- End note 1
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health, 2016. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/e-cigarettes/pdfs/2016_sgr_entire_report_508.pdf
- End note 2
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm
- End note 3
The Conference Board of Canada, 2017. The Costs of Tobacco Use in Canada, 2012. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/publications/healthy-living/costs-tobacco-use-canada-2012/Costs-of-Tobacco-Use-in-Canada-2012-eng.pdf
- End note 4
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health, 2012. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK99242/#ch2.s2
- End note 5
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, Eaton, D. L., Kwan, L. Y., & Stratton, K. (Eds.)., 2018. Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes. National Academies Press (US). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507171/
- End note 6
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2019. Lower-Risk Nicotine Use Guidelines. Retrieved from: https://www.nicotinedependenceclinic.com/en/Pages/Lower-Risk-Nicotine-Use-Guidelin%E2%80%8Bes.aspx
- End note 7
Quorus Consulting Group Inc., 2020. Exploratory Research on Youth Vaping. Retrieved from https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/health/2020/069-19-e/report.pdf
- End note 8
Earnscliffe Strategy Group, 2020. Social Values and Psychographic Segmentation of Tobacco and Nicotine Users and Non-Users: Final Report. Retrieved from https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/health/2020/048-19-e/report.pdf
- End note 9
Environics Research, 2019. Vapers Panel Survey to Measure Attitudes and Behaviours Regarding Vaping Products. Retrieved from https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/health/2019/083-18-e/report.pdf
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