By Dr. Daniel Cohen, Westmed Pediatrician
In November, the American Cancer Society promotes The Great American Smokeout®- a campaign for people everywhere to commit to healthy, smoke-free lives. In honor of this day, I want to help spread awareness about the growing trend of e-cigarettes among teens, and arm parents with the tools to combat the issue of vaping.
Over the past eight years there has been an epidemic imposed upon your children in the guise of a “healthier alternative” to smoking cigarettes. ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) popularized by JUUL, have risen from trend to phenomenon to a nearly ubiquitous health risk. ENDS, like e-cigarettes, were presented as a means of decreasing the risk of cancer-causing exposure to smokers who were already addicted to nicotine. However, soon after e-cigarettes were introduced into the market, companies began to introduce tobacco “flavoring”, ranging from mint and mango to even “unicorn juice”.
At that point was when I began to ask myself: who were these devices really directed towards? I think it is fair to assume that a 45 year-old, pack-per-day smoker would not walk into a store and ask for the JUUL cartridge with “unicorn juice” in it.
So today, many parents walk into their pediatrician’s office and ask “now what?”
What Do You Do If You Learn That Your Teen Is Vaping?
Start by understanding why your child might do this. Here is a scenario to guide you: Your honor student child walks into a room with their friend who says: “My father uses e-cigarettes to help him quit smoking. It is water vapor, not smoke, so it shouldn’t hurt your lungs. It gives me a little buzz and helps me calm down. I read that it was 95% safer than smoking… oh and this one is bubble gum flavored.”
Then your child’s friend does it and hands it to your kid. With that description from their friend, why wouldn’t they do it?
While this teen might not be lying about the effects of e-cigarettes and vaping… they likely do not know the whole truth.
- Be sure to take the opportunity to inform your child of the risks and that are associated with vaping.
- Teach them that addiction works because it gives you a false feeling of safety.
- Instead of yelling or punishing your teen, get resources to educate them. Talk to them and show them why YOU are scared.
- End the conversation with the truth. Ask your child: have you seen that there are people dying from this?
Where Do Kids Get Vape Pens And Products?
- Teens acquire ENDS devices the same way they get alcohol when they are underage. Sometimes an older friend purchases one and then a group of friends share one. Current laws allow kids over age 18 to buy “carts”(cartridges) online or at Vape Shops.
- New devices are introduced frequently to allow kids to vape anytime, anywhere. Some of the new devices I have taken note of include a watch-like device that allows you to vape from your wrist, as well as accessories, like a latch girls can attach to their brassiere strap, so they can vape covertly from under their shirt in the bathroom or class.
Who Is At Risk?
- EVERYONE! It could be an honors student or a star athlete. Never assume it is not your child.
- Open the conversation. If you do not believe your child would vape, ask them about JUUL pods, or if they know anyone who has done “rips” (the slang for usage) at a party.
- Importantly, kids at higher risk of addiction to nicotine and e-cigarettes are those who are suffering from mental health issues. Children with depression, anxiety or ADD are at a higher risk of continued usage.
Can You Be Hospitalized Or Die From Vaping?
- Yes to both. As of the date of this article there have been 42 deaths and more than 2,000 hospitalizations reported, as a direct result of vaping.
- The illnesses are typically rapid and unpredictable in their onset. While the majority of the cases have been reported with young people who used THC (tetrahydrocannabinol- the active ingredient in marijuana) cartridges, this is not all the cases.
- The answer to the question, “why are kids dying from vape” is that we do not know, yet. If you are a parent use that ambiguity as your power to tell your kids why you fear them trying. You do not know when that vape may hurt your lungs forever.
How Do We Prevent This, When Kids Constantly See Advertisements For ENDS/Vaping On Their Phones?
- Open the conversation with your school district or pediatrician. Teenagers may seem obstinate, but they learn and absorb information, when it presented in a balanced way.
- Additional resources include TheTruth.com or powertotheparent.org for more tools and resources to deal with this difficult conversation.
- If you know that your child is already addicted to nicotine from e-cigarettes, consult with your pediatrician or mental health specialists.
Most importantly TALK to your kids. Admit your fear and ignorance and learn with them. Perhaps if they teach you, they will learn it better for themselves.