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Setting Goals and Parental Support May Help Curb Teen Vaping

three teen boys discussing vaping

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Key Takeaways

  • A study shows that parental involvement and setting goals for the future may help steer kids from vaping.
  • Messages youth receive on vaping may need to differ from anti-smoking campaigns to be effective.
  • Although e-cigarette use has decreased over the past year, it is still at epidemic proportions.

E-cigarettes have been the most widely used tobacco product among youth since 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the practice, known as vaping, has seen a recent modest decrease among teens, it is still at concerning levels.

A new study, published in Pediatrics, has uncovered ways to help curb teens’ use of e-cigarettes. The study found that teens who set goals and have strong parental support are less likely to vape.

Research and Findings

Researchers with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine provided surveys to local high school students. The 2,487 participants answered questions to determine if they used tobacco products, and if so, how often. The survey also asked questions to find out if four “protective factors” equated to a lesser likelihood of them using tobacco products.

The protective factors asked about the impact of the students’ beliefs and goals for the future, their interactions and communication with their parents, their ability to rely on their friends, and their sense of feeling like they belong at school.

Armeen Poor, MD

I think the parental factor is particularly important because it shows us that perhaps parents can step in and, through the connections they foster with their kids, play a role in reducing the teens’ chance of engaging in harmful vaping.

— Armeen Poor, MD

The study found that youth who had positive future orientation, such as setting goals, and parental support were up to 25% less likely to try vaping or have recently taken part in the practice. The support of peers and feeling included at school had no bearing on the teens’ decision to try e-cigarettes or smoke.

“I think the parental factor is particularly important because it shows us that perhaps parents can step in and, through the connections they foster with their kids, play a role in reducing the teens’ chance of engaging in harmful vaping,” states Armeen Poor, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College, attending physician in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Metropolitan Hospital and director of critical care services.

The findings relied on the students’ willingness to self-report the information, but the hope is that the anonymity allowed for honest answers. The information provides a gateway into the thinking and reasoning of youth and their decisions to use tobacco products.

Why the Results Matter

From assemblies to course literature, schools have invested time and energy into spreading the message to kids on the dangers of using tobacco products. Tactics range from imploring to the desire to stay healthy, to attempting to scare them straight.

Government programs, like the Food and Drug Administration's “The Real Cost,” have tried to deter youth from vaping and smoking. Even with the decline in 2020, there are still 3.6 million youth using e-cigarettes and disposable cigarettes.

E-cigarettes can come in appealing flavors as well as in attractive packaging that looks like USB flash drives, pens, and other ordinary items. The packaging, along with advertising that touts vaping as a way to quit smoking cigarettes, can make it seem to be a safer option for teens.

But despite the e-cigarettes’ benign appearance, they still contain nicotine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states in a report that highly addictive nicotine can harm brain development, which continues into the early 20s. Furthermore, the CDC notes that kids who start using e-cigarettes may be more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes in the future.

By understanding what inputs kids really respond to when considering their decision to start vaping, parents, educators, and officials can employ more successful methods in helping them to stop before they start.

“We have a lot of evidence to support prevention programs for other forms of substance use, particularly cigarettes. However, we know that how teens perceive and use vaping products differs from traditional tobacco. Strategies we use to prevent vaping may need to incorporate new approaches,” notes Nicholas Szoko, MD, a fellow at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and lead author of the study.

Supporting Your Child

Peer pressure is often strong and effective during the middle school and high school years. Yet, this study shows that parental involvement carries more weight when it comes to vaping.

Being supportive and encouraging your child can be key in helping them decide not to vape. And if your teen has experimented with vaping and tobacco products, support their desire to quit.

Have an open and honest dialogue with your teen about pressures they are facing, including alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. You also should share truthful facts and resources with them about the dangers of vaping and try not to use guilt or fear to motivate them. Also, be sure to set an example for them in your own life by not smoking or getting help to quit.

Nicholas Szoko, MD

With over 25% of youth in our sample reporting vaping in the last 30 days and almost 50% reporting use of vaping products in their lifetime, vaping remains a major public health crisis.

— Nicholas Szoko, MD

Smoking e-cigarettes can cause harm now and in the future for your teen. Arm yourself with strategies to help prevent them from starting, or to guide them through quitting.

“With over 25% of youth in our sample reporting vaping in the last 30 days and almost 50% reporting use of vaping products in their lifetime, vaping remains a major public health crisis,” Dr. Szoko concludes.

If your teen is struggling with vaping or another substance, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

What This Means For You

Although advertising and peers can heavily influence your teen’s decisions, the impact you as a parent have carries enormous weight. As the study shows, parental involvement and a positive outlook on their future plans can make a significant difference in your teen's choices, both now and in the future. Continue to talk with them about the risks of vaping and why they should avoid trying it as well as provide tips for dealing with peer pressure.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth and tobacco use. Updated December 16, 2020.

  2. Szoko N, Ragavan MI, Khetarpal SK, Chu K-H, Culyba AJ. Protective factors against vaping and other tobacco use. Pediatrics. 2021;148(2):e2020048066. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-048066

  3. Food and Drug Administration. The real cost campaign. Updated February 26, 2021.

  4. U.S. Surgeon General. E-cigarette use among youth and young adults. Published 2016.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quick facts on the risks of e-cigarettes for kids, teens, and young adults. Updated July 7, 2021.

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