Skip to content
Hands holding cigarettes and a vape device.
3 min read

Signs Your Child is Vaping, Smoking or Chewing Tobacco

Children and teens are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of vaping, smoking and chewing tobacco. It’s important for you to ensure your child is not using any form of tobacco.

The dangers of tobacco range from increased risk of lung disease, cancer and heart disease to oral health problems, brain damage and more.

If your child is using tobacco products laced with nicotine, they are likely to develop a nicotine addiction or already have one.

General signs of a nicotine addiction include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Urges and cravings
  • Restlessness or jumpiness

Outside of the withdrawal symptoms, these are the signs of vaping, smoking and chewing tobacco to watch out for:

signs of vaping

Vaping is an epidemic amongst youth. It’s the most common way that children and teens use tobacco. Often, vaping is seen as “safe” or “harmless.” Many believe that they are just breathing in harmless water vapor with a flavor. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even if they aren’t vaping nicotine, there can be lasting damage. In most e-liquids, there is a slew of chemicals that aren’t safe for users. Some of these chemicals include:

  • Nicotine
  • Ultrafine Particles
  • Toxins
  • Carcinogens Like Lead, Formaldehyde and Toluene
  • Flavorings Such as Diacetyl
  • Heavy Metals
  • Volatile Organic Compounds

When your child is vaping, it can be easy to go unnoticed, even in enclosed spaces, so determining whether or not your child has been engaging in it can be difficult.

There isn’t one clear smell associated with vaping. Typically, vape scents smell like their flavoring. Since most youth vapers use flavored e-liquid, when they vape, you may smell bursts of flavors like fruit, candy or mint.

One undeniable sign your child is vaping is finding their e-cigarette device or e-liquid pods. These come in many shapes and sizes and could resemble traditional cigarettes, USB devices or other everyday items. The devices are easy to hide, and they often fly under the radar.

The physical and mental signs of vaping could present as:

  • Bad breath
  • Oral health problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased stress
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Irritability from withdrawals


signs of smoking cigarettes

Cigarette smoking is often a little easier to identify than vaping due to the undeniable smell of cigarette smoke that clings to clothing, breath and surfaces.

Like vaping, finding a pack of cigarettes among their belongings, cigarette butts littered outside or cigarette butts in the trash are easy indicators that your child may be smoking.

The physical and mental signs of traditional smoking could present as:

  • Clothing or vehicle smelling of smoke
  • Frequent 5- to 10-minute breaks/disappearances
  • Bad breath and acts to alleviate bad breath
  • Yellowing teeth or increased oral health issues
  • A chronic cough or scratchy voice
  • Irritability from withdrawals that is alleviated by a few minutes outside


Signs of smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as cigarettes. Also known as chew, spit, snuff, chaw and dip, smokeless tobacco is especially bad for oral health.

Similar to vaping, it comes in a variety of flavors, making it more appealing. The kicker? Dipping 8-10 times a day exposes the user to as much nicotine as smoking 30-40 cigarettes. That's more than two to three times the amount of nicotine.

The signs of chewing tobacco could present as:

  • Appearing to chew something for extended periods of time
  • Irritated gums
  • Oral lesions
  • Receding gum lines
  • High blood pressure
  • Cracked or bleeding lips
  • Excessive spitting in trash cans or cups
  • Red or white patches on the gums


help them quit

No matter how your child uses tobacco products, every method can damage their health. Protect your child from the lasting effects of nicotine and non-nicotine tobacco products.

If your child is vaping, smoking or chewing tobacco, talk to their pediatrician or other primary care provider for insights.

With the guidance of a healthcare professional, help them find a quit method that works for them. If they don’t use, review ways to prevent them from ever starting.


Sources: CDC, Mayo Clinic, Riley Children’s Health, Children’s Wisconsin

Quit tools

13 or Older

For South Dakota residents 13 or older, South Dakota QuitLine offers three FREE ways to quit tobacco. Choose the option that works best for your child's quit journey.

12 or Younger

For those 12 or younger, the Truth Initiative offers This is Quitting, available 24/7 through their phone to help them quit and stay quit.