Here's What Parents Should Know About Fake Vaping Accounts on TikTok

Parents may already know that vaping poses a threat their children's health, but they may not know how easy for tweens and teens to purchase illegal vaping supplies from fake accounts on TikTok.

Young male in red hoodie vaping smoking, blows multiple smoke rings while holding a vape in hand, isolated rear view
Photo: Getty

When I was a kid, way back in the 1980s, the local mall was the coolest place on earth. This was long before social media, so you had to go there if you wanted to be cool and be seen. Dotted throughout the mall were smokey little oases of gold metal trash cans with ashtray tops and fake shrubs. These centers were packed with teens smoking cigarettes they likely stole from their parents.

Back then, the biggest concern was that we'd all turn into derelicts by smoking so young; no one was worried about overdosing and dying because we all roughly understood what was in a cigarette. But that was then, and now, in 2022, the fears of kids smoking could mean the difference between life and death.

Kids as young as middle school age are hacking their listed age on TikTok in order to purchase vaping products sold by illegal vape accounts. The consequences of this surging trend include serious injury and death, but thankfully with knowledge comes the power to interrupt a trend and make healthy changes.

Here is what parents need to know.

What Is Vaping?

Vaping is smoking through an electronic cigarette, also known as a vape or e-cigarette. The device heats up a chemical-based liquid that turns into a vapor that you inhale. The devices used include pens, hookahs, and popular brand vape pens called JUUL, which come in bright candy colors and look more like a USB port than a pipe.

The liquid product, usually called a pod, comes in a wide variety of flavors that range from sweet to bitter and include high nicotine concentrations. In a paper published by the University of California San Francisco, researchers found that JUUL had eight times the nicotine concentration of other vape brands and 5.2 times higher than cigarettes, making them highly addictive and putting a smoker, especially kids, at higher risk of nicotine poisoning.

It was hailed as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes when vaping was first introduced. Gone was the dirty smoke and terrible smell associated with lung disease and cancer, but researchers began to pick that argument apart once kids started getting sick from inhaling high nicotine concentrations.

Between 2019 and 2020, there was a sharp rise in lung injuries reported in U.S. hospitals. Illegal vape producers are adding Vitamin E acetate to THC-containing vape products. Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the lung injury outbreak. Sadly, 2,807 cases have been reported, including 68 deaths.

Fake Vaping Accounts on TikTok

TikTok allows kids as young as 13 to use their platform. However, their accounts are set to private as a default; no doubt a measure put in place as a safety precaution. According to data collected by TikTok, there are currently at least 205 unofficial accounts that are illegally selling Elf Bar vape products, a popular brand in the UK.

More than half a million kids follow these accounts and can easily circumnavigate TikTok age requirements in order to purchase these illegal products. TikTok data shows that 1,900 online users are searching YouTube and Google to learn how to hack their age on TikTok. When we zoom out, this figure rises to 10,000 per month globally.

"It's worrying that there are so many fake social media accounts posing as retailers. Not only will unscrupulous people sell vaping products to underage users this way, but the products themselves might not even be genuine. Worse still, these fake products could be dangerous," Dan Marchant, director at the UK's largest online vaping retailer, Vape Club, said in a statement shared on DevonLive.

"Reputable sellers have safeguards in place to ensure that children can't buy vaping products. For instance, we conduct full digital age verification on every new customer before we allow an order to go out the door."

Educate Your Kids on Vaping

The scary truth is that vaping is becoming more and more common. Here are some numbers at a glance:

  • 5 million U.S. kids use e-cigarettes
  • 8,000 kids start vaping every day
  • 10.5 percent of middle schoolers tried vaping in 2019
  • 65 percent of parents don't think their kids are at risk of being exposed to vaping

"Talk to them about immediate and long-term health risks," Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., a national spokesperson from the ALA and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Parents. "We don't know what these toxins will do to the lungs in 10, 20 years. And we may be seeing a whole new variety of new lung diseases we never expected."

Parents should consider having age-appropriate and honest conversations with their kids about vaping. It is impactful to create a family culture of education around why choosing to vape can be dangerous to one's health, especially since we don't know the long-term effects of vaping on anyone, particularly on kids with bodies that are still developing.

"If you catch your children vaping or are suspicious that they might be vaping with their friends, you should sit them down to explain the risks. If they have a sudden interest in talking about vaping, then have an honest and open conversation about the dangers involved with fake sellers advertising products through social media," Jo Barry, mother of a 14-year-old boy who has tried vaping pens, said in a statement press release shared with Parents.

"To curb illegal purchases, parents might also want to limit any pocket money they give to their children or make an extra effort to see how their pocket money is being spent. They could casually ask their children how they plan to spend it or discreetly keep track of their children's purchases," Barry added.

For parents who are not familiar with TikTok, it may be worth downloading the app and learning how it works. Together with your child, you can talk about online safety such as how to spot fake accounts and how to report them. Set social media boundaries with your child and check in with them online regularly to make sure they are safe.

For helpful advice on how to start talking to your kids about vaping, check out these free online resources:

The Vape Talk from the American Lung Association

Talk with Your Teen About E-cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents

How to Talk To Your Kids About Vaping From NYU Langone Giving

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