Teen Nicotine, Tobacco & Vaping Use

Smoking, Vaping, or Chewing – What Do They Have in Common?

Nicotine is the chemical found in tobacco products that is responsible for addiction. When tobacco products are used, nicotine is quickly absorbed into the body and goes directly to the brain. Nicotine activates areas of the brain that make in individual feel happy and satisfied, making the substance highly addictive and dangerous – especially to a teen’s developing brain.

Nicotine Addiction in Teens

Nicotine addiction may look different from person to person. Even if only used occasionally, an individual can become addicted and struggle to quit because nicotine changes the way the brain works. Many teens underestimate how easy it is to become addicted to nicotine. Teens are the most at risk for nicotine addiction because their brains are still developing. The younger a person is when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become addicted.

What is a standard drink

You may think that you can use tobacco without becoming addicted. But the truth is, most teens who use tobacco will get hooked. Three out of four teens who smoke cigarettes in high school will still be smoking as adults.


Signs of Nicotine Addiction

  1. Cravings or intense feelings to use tobacco products
  2. Going out of the way to get tobacco
  3. Continuing to use tobacco because stopping is challenging
  4. Continuing to use tobacco despite health problems, like difficulty breathing
  5. Giving up social activities because you can’t use tobacco in those situations
  6. Feeling anxious or irritable if you want to use tobacco but can’t
  7. You have to use tobacco within minutes of waking up

When an individual is addicted to nicotine, they may experience symptoms of nicotine withdrawal when they stop using tobacco, such as intense cravings, feeling down or irritable, or having trouble sleeping. These symptoms tend to be the strongest within the first week after quitting, but they are only temporary and lessen with time.

The Dangers of Nicotine in Teenagers

Nicotine addiction is dangerous because it increases the risk that a person can be a lifelong tobacco user. Long-term exposure to the harmful chemicals in tobacco products leads to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, and numerous cancers.

Teens are more vulnerable to nicotine’s addictive effects because their brains continue to develop until the age of 25. Nicotine changes their brain in the parts responsible for attention, learning, and memory, worsening concentration, learning and impulse control. Nicotine-induced changes to the brain while it is still developing can not only lead to permanent effects on one’s ability to make decisions, but also increase one’s risk of becoming addicted to other substances.

Teen boy with vape


Tobacco is a plant grown for its leaves, which are dried and used to create tobacco products. While nicotine is what addicts people to using tobacco products, it is not what makes tobacco use so harmful. Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain thousands of chemicals- including tar, carbon monoxide, lead, and arsenic- that cause serious harm to the body. Tobacco smoke also harms non-smokers as they are exposed to smoke in public and social settings. Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke carries all the same risks as firsthand smoke. Anytime you can smell tobacco smoke you are being exposed to all the same chemicals as the smoker.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.

Cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year – from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This represents about 1,300 deaths every day. In addition, for every one person who dies from smoking, 30 more suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness.

Boy smoking with hands tied
Teen boy smoking

Smoked Tobacco

These are labeled as regular, light, or menthol, but no evidence exists that light or menthol cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.

Cigars are often much larger than cigarettes, containing anywhere from 3 to 14 times the amount of tobacco. Also, cigars are wrapped in a tobacco leaf (whereas cigarettes are wrapped in a non-tobacco paper) which adds to the amount of tobacco being consumed.

Hookahs or water pipes
Hookah tobacco comes in many flavors, and the pipe is typically passed around in groups. A typical hookah session delivers approximately 125 times the smoke, 25 times the tar, 2.5 times the nicotine, and 10 times the carbon monoxide as smoking a cigarette.

Chewing Tobacco Can

Smokeless Tobacco

Chewing Tobacco
It is typically placed between the cheek and gums.

Ground tobacco that can be sniffed if dried or placed between the cheek and gums.

Moist snuff that is used like chewing tobacco.

A small pouch of moist snuff.
Dissolvable products: These include lozenges, orbs, sticks, and strips.



Also called e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems, vaping devices, e-cigs, or JUULing

Vaping products are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine and flavorings without burning tobacco.

In most products, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. The resulting vapor is then inhaled (called “vaping”).

Talking to Your Kids

Parents face a tough dilemma about substance use: we may want our children to abstain from alcohol and drug use but what do we do if they are not? Besides the effects of substance use on the developing brain, teens using substances may face very serious consequences.

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Signs of Teen Drug or Alcohol Use

Figuring out if your child is using drugs or alcohol may pose a challenge. Many of the very early signs and symptoms could just be typical teen or young adult behavior. Many may also be signs of mental health issues, including depression or anxiety.

Learn More

Find Help

Find Additional Resources for Crisis Help, Support Groups and Substance Abuse Treatement.

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