UAE: Children as young as 13 addicted to vaping; experts advise parents to be vigilant

Mental health practitioners are advising parents to deal with their teen and pre-teen children in a calm and curious manner

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Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Fri 4 Aug 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 4 Aug 2023, 11:09 PM

During a routine clean-up of the house, S.M. was shocked to find several vapes in his 15-year-old son’s bag. The father of three soon realised that his son was vaping regularly. “I didn’t know how to react,” he said.

According to experts, modern influences have normalised vaping with several younger children taking it up. Naila Al Moosawi, the founder of Dubai-based Amal-Counseling for Better Tomorrow (CFBT), revealed that the youngest client they have treated for vaping addiction was just 13 years old.

“Unfortunately, the normalisation of vaping that has happened over time exposed many teenagers and young adults to the harmful practice,” she told Khaleej Times, adding: "With all the modern influence from social media and streaming services, vaping has become a problem.”

Dr Wafa Saoud, child and adolescent clinical psychologist at Sage Clinics said that they receive a lot of calls from parents. She said: “We have seen an increase in the number of enquiries from parents who want to support their teens to overcome their vaping habits and need guidance to navigate these circumstances."

“Moreover, we work very closely with schools, and they have also shared their concerns around the significant increase in vaping among their teens, so we are currently preparing different talks aimed to educate adolescents," Dr Saoud added.

Advice to parents

Mental health practitioners are advising parents to deal with their teen and pre-teen children in a calm and curious manner. “When parents approach the situation calmly and show genuine curiosity, they create a supportive environment for their children to share about their vaping habits,” said Dr Lauren Smith, child and adolescent clinical psychologist at Sage Clinics. “Establishing a non-judgemental space encourages honest conversations, helping parents understand whether vaping is an experimental phase driven by curiosity or a coping mechanism for stress, boredom, or peer pressure.”

Bushra Khan, transformation coach and holistic psychotherapist at Wellth also advised parents to be patient and offer support instead of punishments. “Approach the situation with empathy and support rather than punishment,” she said. “Addiction is a complex issue, and the child needs understanding and encouragement. Quitting any habit takes time, and relapses can happen. Encourage the child to keep trying and remind them that it's okay to stumble along the way. It is important to celebrate their successes, no matter how small.”

Naila Al Moosawi stressed that it was important for parents to set good role models. “Youngsters are likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps, so having a good role model who takes a stand against vaping is always important,” she said.

Dangers of vaping

Experts are warning that youngsters are unaware about the dangers of vaping. “It's vital to educate them about potential health risks,” said Dr. Wafa Saoud. “Clear explanations about the dangers of nicotine addiction, respiratory problems, and long-term health implications associated with vaping can help the child make informed decisions.”

According to Bushra Khan, it is dangerous to allow youngsters to continue vaping due to the following reasons:

Health risks: Vaping exposes children to harmful chemicals, including nicotine, which can adversely affect brain development, lung function, and cardiovascular health. Nicotine is highly addictive and can lead to a lifelong dependence on nicotine-containing products.

Addiction: Adolescents' brains are still developing, and exposure to nicotine during this critical period can lead to addiction. Nicotine addiction can interfere with brain development and increase the likelihood of continued substance abuse later in life.

Gateway to smoking: Studies have shown that kids who vape are more likely to transition to smoking traditional cigarettes.

Respiratory issues: Vaping can cause lung inflammation and irritation, leading to respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Additionally, there have been cases of severe lung injuries and even deaths related to vaping, particularly when using black-market or modified vaping products.

Accidental exposure: E-liquids used in vaping devices often come in appealing flavors and may contain high levels of nicotine, making them potentially toxic if accidentally ingested by young children.

Social and behavioural impact: Vaping can influence social interactions and peer dynamics among kids, potentially leading to increased social pressure and risky behaviors.

Academic performance: Nicotine use has been linked to decreased cognitive performance, attention deficits, and reduced learning abilities, which can negatively impact academic achievement.


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