Should Parents Be Concerned About Vaping?

teen pulling vaper out of pocket
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While you may find it relatively easy to talk your teen out of trying traditional cigarettes, it can be harder to convince kids to stay away from e-cigarettes. Vaping has become popular among today's youth. In fact, the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than 3.6 million youth have used e-cigarettes. That means vaping has surpassed cigarette use in teenagers.

For this reason, it’s important for parents to learn the facts about vaping. This way, you can educate your kids about the harmfulness of vaping and the risks to their health. What's more, vaping is much more appealing to kids that traditional cigarettes. With names that make them sound like candy—like mint chocolate and frozen lime drop—many young people are curious to test out these new flavors for themselves.

In fact, research has shown that the interesting flavors are what lead kids to experiment with vaping, to begin with. And, many do not realize that vape pens or JUUL pods have dangerously high levels of nicotine in them or that they are harmful to their health. Most young people even falsely assume that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking.

What Is Vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or vaporizer. The vapor is produced when a liquid called e-juice or e-liquid is heated. E-juice, which comes in a cartridge, usually consists of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol as well as flavorings. Nearly all e-liquids contain some form of nicotine, and many contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

The vapor from an e-cigarette looks thicker than traditional cigarette smoke. It also tends to smell better, and it quickly dissipates into the air. Consequently, it is easier for teens to vape without being detected, especially if parents and teachers do not know what to look for.

Although there are a variety of vaporizers available, most teens choose e-cigarettes. Starter kits come with batteries, refillable cartridges, and a charger. They are about the size of a pen and are easy to hide at school. Another popular alternative among teens is the JUUL pod. These devices look like a thumb drive and are easy for kids to use without being detected because they do not look like a cigarette or vape pen and fit easily in a pocket.

Legal Considerations for Minors

E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine. As a result, all 50 states have made it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase e-cigarettes. What's more, the FDA now requires e-cigarettes to contain a warning on the label about the addictiveness of nicotine.

Despite the laws, minors have found ways to get their hands on e-cigarettes. Many of them are purchasing e-cigarettes online. In fact, a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics tested how easy it was for minors to buy e-cigarettes over the internet. Researchers discovered minors were successful in getting e-cigarettes delivered to them 94% of the time.

Know the Risks

Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. For years, many professionals have warned that nicotine use can be a gateway to other drugs. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns, “e-cigarettes are threatening to addict a new generation to nicotine.”

The AAP recommends stricter laws to help deter minors from accessing e-cigarettes. They even recommend that the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, be increased to age 21 nationwide.

What's more, nicotine may be more harmful to adolescents than adults. Brain development continues through about age 25, and nicotine may harm the developing brain. Not only are teens more susceptible to addiction, but vaping can impact their ability to concentrate, learn, and exercise.

Even e-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine can be harmful. The surgeon general warns that e-cigarettes may contain other potentially harmful ingredients, including:

  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals such as nickel, lead, and tin
  • Ultra-fine particles that could be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to lung disease

Because e-cigarettes are relatively new, the long-term health effects of users and bystanders are not completely clear.​​ Unlike traditional smoking, there is not a lot of research on the harmful effects of vaping. But there has been a surge of stories in the media about kids who vape experiencing seizures, getting pneumonia, or developing serious problems with breathing.

In fact, a 2017 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine indicates that teens who vape are twice as likely to suffer respiratory problems than peers who do not vape. They also experience persistent coughs, bronchitis, congestion, and phlegm more frequently as well.

Another huge risk factor with vaping is the fact that the devices can explode causing serious injuries. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Fire Administration, the shape and size of vaping devices make them more likely to blow up than other products with lithium batteries.

In fact, the devices have been referred to as "flaming rockets." When they blow up, the force behind the device has caused serious injuries to users including breaking their jaws or knocking out their teeth.

Meanwhile, another study found that injuries from e-cigarette use resulted in nearly 2,000 emergency room visits between 2015 and 2017. That figure represents two ER visits a day.

Vaping vs. Traditional Cigarettes

Vaping proponents have argued that vaping is a step down from smoking—and can eventually help smokers quit. But the FDA has never indicated that vaping is an effective smoking cessation tool, nor have they made any claims that vaping is less harmful than smoking.

Likewise, the AAP says vaping should not be used to help people quit smoking. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization suggests vaping is a gateway for teens and young adults to start using other addictive substances.

Talk to Teens About Vaping

Teens are more likely to think e-cigarettes are much cooler than traditional cigarettes. They also may insist that you don’t know what you’re talking about since e-cigarettes probably weren’t around when you were young. But these things should not deter you. It’s important to hold conversations about the dangers of vaping, especially because most teens think e-cigarettes are harmless.

Look for opportunities to bring up the subject of vaping naturally. Strike up a conversation when you see someone vaping or when you pass an e-cigarette shop. Get the conversation rolling by asking a question like, “Do kids at your school smoke e-cigarettes?”

Here are some key talking points you might want to incorporate into your discussion:

  • Your brain is still developing until about age 25. Using nicotine as a teen could be harmful to your brain.
  • Using nicotine may make it harder for you to learn or to control your impulses.
  • Nicotine may cause you to become more easily addicted to harder drugs.
  • E-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine still contain other harmful chemicals that are bad for your brain and your body.

Hold specific conversations about how to resist peer pressure so your teen has a plan on how to respond when offered an e-cigarette. When teens find themselves in situations where people are vaping, encourage them to excuse themselves from the situation. Talk about the health risks of being a bystander, as well as the temptation to try it themselves.

To gain credibility, acknowledge the reasons teens may want to vape—all their friends are doing it; vaping seems like the cool thing to do; the flavors sound interesting and fun. Then, discuss the downsides of doing it as well.

If your teen doubts that vaping is harmful, do some online research together. Look at credible websites like the Centers for Disease Control and the American Lung Association and talk about the facts and studies.

Signs Your Teen Is Vaping

Don’t assume that your teen wouldn’t vape or that you’d know if your teen was doing it. Many good students, star athletes, and otherwise “great kids” experiment with e-cigarettes at one time or another. It can be hard to detect if your teen is vaping because the odor is not as distinct as regular cigarettes. Here are some of the signs to be on the lookout for.

  • Smelling sweet. E-cigarettes don’t put off the same odor as a traditional cigarette. They may smell like a variety of flavors, such as bubble gum or fruit. But those sweet smells may be a sign your teen is vaping in the other room.
  • Having bloodshot eyes. There aren’t many physical signs that a teen is vaping, but bloodshot eyes can be a clue.
  • Being irritable. If your teen is moodier than usual, it could be a sign of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Getting nosebleeds. Vaping causes the skin inside the nose to dry out. So, teens who vape tend to get nosebleeds more frequently, especially in the winter.
  • Being thirsty. There is some evidence that propylene glycol found in e-cigarettes increases thirst.
  • Experiencing caffeine sensitivity. Vaping can cause more sensitivity to caffeine and result in jitteriness, anxiety, and moodiness when combining vape pens and coffee.
  • Having a persistent cough. Vaping harms a teen's lungs and can make breathing difficult. If your teen is constantly coughing, you may want to investigate.

Be on the lookout for e-cigarettes or vaping paraphernalia. Familiarize yourself with what the products look like so you’ll be aware if you come across something in your home. Because e-cigarettes resemble pens or thumb drives, some parents don’t recognize them when they see them.

Additionally, be aware of your teen’s online activity. If packages come to your home addressed to your teen, pay attention to what your teen is buying.

If you think your teen is vaping, hold a direct conversation about your concerns. Schedule an appointment with your teen’s physician as well to talk about the risks. Sometimes, teens are more likely to hear warnings issued by medical professionals than their parents.

What to Keep in Mind If You Vape

If you use tobacco products, there’s a greater risk your child will use them too. As a result, quitting is the best way to reduce the likelihood that your child will pick up the habit. Ask your doctor for the best smoking and vaping cessation tools, and then make a commitment to do so. If you continue to vape, don’t do so around your children. Keep the following facts in mind as well.

  • The AAP warns that the aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes contains a variety of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens and nicotine.
  • Keep e-cigarettes and vaping devices locked in a secure location. Not only will this deter older children from experimenting, but it will also keep younger children safe.
  • The candy flavors in vaping solutions often appeal to little ones, but liquid nicotine is extremely toxic and can be fatal if ingested by a toddler. Kids can even get sick if the liquid gets on their skin.
  • When you throw away a device or a cartridge, follow the disposal instructions on the product label. That way your child won’t be able to come in contact with the liquid.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, your teens need to realize how risky vaping is to their health. Share stories about the dangers and remind them that vaping impacts all areas of their lives. Not only is their health at risk, but their performance in school and in sports will suffer too. Plus, it is highly addictive. Once they start, they will have a hard time stopping. If you vape, you could even share stories about how hard it is for you to quit. With regular, two-way communication, you will be able to have a healthy dialogue about why vaping is not right for them.

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