Lesson “E-Cigarettes: A Dangerous Trend”

First published 2019. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.

Teens now use e-cigarettes more than any other nicotine-containing product.
While e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes for adult smokers,
most versions pose a great risk to teens because they contain the same addictive nicotine found in cigarettes. One cartridge can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. By sharing the article “E-Cigarettes: A Dangerous Trend” and teaching this lesson and activity, you’ll help students learn why e-cigarettes aren’t harmless.


Science Literacy, English/Language Arts, Health/Life Skills


RST.6-8.7 / RST.9-10.7

  • Integrateandevaluatecontent presented in diverse formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words

W.6-8.1 / W.9-10.1

  • Write arguments to support claims, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence
  • AnalyzingandInterpreting Data/Engaging in Argument from Evidence/Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
  • Personal Health
  • Science and technology in society/Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
  • 8. Science, technology, and society



  1. How are e-cigarettes similar to tobacco cigarettes? How are they different?
    Both tobacco cigarettes and most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. E-cigarettes produce a vapor that contains nicotine and other chemicals, such as flavor compounds. Cigarettes release a toxic smoke that contains thousands of chemicals, roughly 70 of which are known to cause cancer. There is evidence that some e-cigarette vapor also contains cancer-causing chemicals.
  2. What health risks do e-cigarettes pose? Cite scientific evidence from the text to support your answer.
    Most vaping devices contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Using the drug can lead people to become addicted, which may cause them to use other nicotine-containing products, like tobacco cigarettes. Evidence shows that teens who vape are more likely to begin smoking. There is evidence that nicotine addiction may make teens more vulnerable to other drug addictions. There is some evidence that e-cigarette vapor also contains cancer-causing chemicals as well as toxic metals like cadmium, which can cause breathing problems.
  3. Why is it important that scientists continue studying the health effects of e-cigarettes?
    The devices have existed for only about 15 years, so little is known about the long-term health effects of the devices. The history of smoking shows that it can take a long time to gather evidence about how dangerous using a drug or other substance is to your health.


  • Grades 6–8: Are e-cigarettes safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes? Cite evidence to support your answer.
  • Grades 9–10: Should e-cigarettes be illegal for teens? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.
  • Grades 11-12: You read that scientists don’t know all of the risks associated with e-cigarettes. How do you think this uncertainty should affect how the devices are regulated?


  • “Teen Researcher Asks: Why Do E-Cigs Harm the Lungs?” blog post: June 4, 2018.
    This paired text describes a teen’s investigation into how e-cigarettes can damage the lungs.
  • Writing prompt: Vaping devices don’t release smoke like cigarettes do. Does that make them safe? Use text evidence from “E-Cigarettes: A Dangerous Trend” and “Teen Researcher Asks: Why Do E-Cigs Harm the Lungs?” to support your answer.

Student Activity Sheet


  1. A Middle school: Roughly .5% to 3% or by 2.5%. High school: Roughly 2% to 12% or by 10%.
  2. E-cigarette use is higher in high school. Answers will vary but may include that older students might have easier access and greater exposure to the devices.
  3. You would expect the number of teen smokers to increase over time if e-cigarette use makes a person more likely to smoke cigarettes.
  4. Answers will vary but should include reference to the top reasons students use e-cigarettes. Programs aimed to reduce marketing to teens may help. Other actions may include informing people that e-cigarettes have some of the same health risks as cigarettes.

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