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Substance misuse

Vaping: A guide for young people and parents

A group of young adults sit together on a bed in a cosy bedroom. One holds a glass in their hands. Overlaid is text that reads: "Drugs Awareness Poster Hub".

Substance misuse is an issue which cuts across our organisation and we have worked with frontline staff at our Young People’s Substance Misuse service to produce downloadable resources that anyone working with young people, or who would like to know more about emerging trends, can download, print off and share.

What is vaping?

‘Vaping’ refers to the use of electronic cigarettes or ‘e-cigs’ – battery-powered devices designed to deliver nicotine in vapour form. (Nicotine is a substance found in tobacco). These devices heat a liquid containing nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals. This turns the liquid into a vapour which is then inhaled. The liquids used in vaping devices, known as e-liquids or vape juices, come in a wide range of flavours.

Disposable vapes are set to be banned by the government. At present, they are widely available and are the type of vape most commonly used by young people.

Did you know?
There are 3 different legal nicotine levels for disposable vapes- 0mg (nicotine-free), 10mg and 20mg. A 20 pack of cigarettes is equal to around 250 puffs of nicotine.

That means one 600 puff, 20mg disposable vape like a watermelon Elf bar is the same as smoking 48 cigarettes.

The Law

  • Vapes are legal but restricted. This means they cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Disposable vapes with more than 600 puffs are illegal in the UK.
  • You may see vapes with 30mg and 50mg nicotine levels being sold, but these are illegal as they are above the 20mg limit and can cause serious health issues.

Five facts about vaping

  1. If you are underage, or you are buying vapes with a nicotine level of more than 20mg or with more than 600 puffs, these vapes are illegal and unregulated. This means they may be contaminated with other ingredients or have unsafe heating elements.
  2. At the moment, many manufacturers try to make vapes appealing to young people. Packets are often brightly coloured and can show cartoon pictures. Many flavours are named after fizzy drinks, sweets or ice-cream. The government wants to change this.
  3. Nicotine is addictive. People can become physically or psychologically dependent on it. This means your body or your mind keep telling you that you need to vape.
  4. Nicotine can make anxiety and depression worse. It also affects memory, concentration, self-control, and attention, especially in developing brains.
  5. Vaping is less harmful than smoking, but it’s still not safe. It can cause side effects like throat and mouth irritation, headache, cough, feeling sick or dental problems. We don’t know yet what long-term effects it has.

If you feel your vaping is having a negative impact on any area of your life, there is support available.


  • You may become dependent on nicotine and feel unable to control your vape use.
  • Vaping when you are under 18 means you can’t get hold of vapes legally. There will not be proper safety checks on illegal vapes or on places and people selling them. Vapes bought this way could be contaminated. People supplying vapes to young people could be trying to groom and exploit them.
  • Some people have tried vaping other substances such as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. This can be dangerous as you do not know 100% what the substance is or how strong it is.
  • Vaping anything means it is absorbed very quickly into your blood stream. Children and young people have been hospitalised after using vapes laced with unknown substances. In some cases, the substances turned out to be different from what they thought they were using.
  • There have also been cases where refillable vapes have been used for spiking by adding chemicals to the liquid that can have a range of unwanted or harmful side effects, including being unable to move.

If you have used any substance and you’re feeling unwell or notice someone else is unwell whilst using, after using or after stopping using cocaine, then seek medical attention urgently. Contact 111 for urgent medical advice or 999 in an emergency.

Staying safe

If you do vape:

  • Make sure that you use a legal product that is made to UK safety standards.
  • Try to limit the amount of puffs you take. Have regular breaks.
  • Do not accept vapes from other people, especially not puffs from refillable vapes.
  • Try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you know you are likely to want to vape or be pressured to vape.

If you feel your vaping is having a negative impact on any area of your life, there is support available.

Catch22 Young People’s Substance Misuse services offer free and confidential advice and support to young people aged between 11 and 25. We can provide you with information about the risks and effects of alcohol or drugs. We are here to listen and can work with you to achieve the changes you would like to make in your life.