What is vaping and is it dangerous? Parents can find the help they are looking for.
“Good thing I’m not in a hurry,” I muttered as I stopped at yet another red light. On my left, three teens – two girls and a guy – stepped off the curb into the intersection. Misty puffs of vapor obscured their faces momentarily before dissipating into the evening air. As they passed by my car the sweet scent of something like vanilla and grape drifted in through my open window. Seeing young people vaping is not unusual, but I couldn’t help but wonder how and why these kids got involved in it. Were their parents okay with it, or were they even aware of it? What help is available for parents regarding vaping?
Vaping is not on every parent’s radar. Some moms and dads feel that it’s not a serious concern compared to the many other complex issues teens face. Rather than assuming vaping is harmless, it’s wise to look for trustworthy information. When and why did vaping become popular? How does it affect physical health? Are there helpful ways for parents to talk about vaping with their son or daughter?
Where did vaping begin?
Vaping is relatively new to our culture. The first commercially successful electronic cigarette was produced in China in 2003 and introduced in the United States in 2006. They rapidly became popular due to marketing strategies directed toward teens. Small devices that are easily concealed and a huge variety of flavors appeal to teens that may be eager for new experiences and want to fit in with friends who are vaping. By the end of 2018, more than 3.6 million high school and middle school students were vaping.
The truth about vaping
Many parents and teens are not aware that the majority of vaping liquids contain nicotine, a substance that has been shown to disrupt a young person’s lung and brain development. Just one Juul cartridge can have as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Nicotine is highly addictive, and so teens often go from vaping and juuling to smoking.
The vapor produced contains heavy metals such as lead and tiny particles that can get stuck in a person’s lungs. Studies have also detected a range of toxic chemicals linked to respiratory diseases and cancer. That’s not all. Vaping devices can be used to ingest marijuana or other dangerous substances.
Some parents might remember sneaking an occasional cigarette during high school. But tell-tale ashes, lingering smoke, and the putrid smell that remained in a car or on clothing made it impossible to keep it concealed for long.
Vaping is not as easy to detect. For one thing, there’s vapor but no smoke. The pleasant odors that result fade quickly and can easily be misidentified as air freshener or candy. Certain types of vapes are almost odorless. To complicate matters, vaping devices can look like regular cigarettes, pens, and other common items. Juuls resemble a USB flash drive. Vaping devices may be referred to as e-cigs, mods, e-hookahs, tank systems, vape pens, and ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems).
If you suspect your teen is already vaping, parents can find help by looking at subtle signs. Vaping tends to dry the mouth, so your teen might drink more liquids than usual, have nosebleeds, clear his throat frequently, or develop a persistent cough. Look closely at unfamiliar items you find in your house. Vaping devices, particularly pens and juuls, usually have holes on each end.
Suggestions from Joannie DeBrito, Director of Parenting and Youth …
You can’t control every aspect of your teen’s life and it’s important to allow teens to make many decisions on their own. Some decisions may lead to mistakes or failures that disrupt their lives for a while and they may learn from the consequences of poor decisions. However, there are some limits to how much freedom teens should have to make their own decisions. It’s helpful for parents to draw the line between decisions that may be painful for the short term and those that could cause significant health risks and irreversible damage.
Even though vaping was originally marketed as harmless and a healthy, fun alternative to smoking – vaping is actually dangerous.
The long-term risks of vaping are significant and may cause irreversible damage to the developing brain. So, say ‘no’ to vaping and any drug use beyond that prescribed by a medical professional, and set consequence for violating that rule.
The consequence should be related and reasonable. You might limit the use of the car, stating that you know that vaping can cause distracted driving. Or, you may say that violating that family rule has broken trust and the teen will have to work to earn back trust. Future decisions that require the parent to trust the teen’s ability to make good decisions may be met with a more restrictive boundary that is set due to the loss of trust.
These messages must be communicated in love and from a place of peaceful assurance that the motivation is concern for the teen’s health rather than an attempt to control the teenager. Therefore, begin with empathy, state the rule and consequences and if the rule is broken, enforce the consequences firmly but calmly.
Help for parents — How to respond to vaping
The best time to talk to kids about vaping is before they’re exposed to it. Prepare for the conversation by looking online for detailed information on the effects of vaping and pictures of the various types of devices. Pay attention to vaping advertisements that target teens and be aware of legislation that is being considered or has already been passed in your state. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel discussing the issue.
Let your teen know you want to talk to him or her about vaping. When the time comes, begin by asking what he or she knows and thinks. Listen calmly, avoid interrupting, and let your teen talk as much as they want to. When the time seems right, calmly respond by sharing some of the helpful information you’ve learned about vaping and the harm it can cause.
Help for parents — Learn what they think about vaping
If you discover or your teen admits they’re vaping, avoid overreacting or harsh criticism. Instead, ask good questions to find out why they may have started. Let him or her know you want to understand where they are coming from.
Obviously, every teen is unique, and those caught up in vaping have their own reasons. Many just want to fit in with friends who vape. One teen shared that vaping can be like wearing a t-shirt that says, “Hey, I’m one of you.” Helping our kids to learn Assets #31: Restraint, Asset #35: Resistance Skills as well as how to say “NO” is vital – and sometimes even life-saving. We’ve often told our kids to use this excuse if they ever feel like they don’t have the wherewithal to withstand the peer pressure: “If you have to, tell your friends that we may randomly drug-test and if things come back positive for any substance – including nicotine – you lose the right to drive, hang with friends and curfews will become very limiting.”
If your teen is tempted and wanting to be part of the crowd, let them know there’s nothing wrong with the universal desire to feel accepted by a group of friends. Consider sharing some of the smart ways or foolish ways you tried to fit in when you were younger. What are your teen’s thoughts on your past actions? Ask them what they think might be positive responses to being part of a group.
Help for parents — Take the fun out of vaping
You can’t control every aspect of your teen’s life, but you can help him discover that foolish behavior results in unwanted consequences. Maybe it’s the car keys, money, or access to video games. For example, you might let your teen know that vaping means no car keys for two weeks. If your teen stops vaping, driving privileges resume at the end of two weeks. You don’t have to respond in anger – calm is usually more effective. But you must follow through on what you say you will do.
No matter what
Your children – regardless of age – are beyond the temptation to fit in. As you give them guidance for, talk to them about important issues, and express your unconditional love for them, you’ll be doing some of the best things any parent can ever do.