What Parents Need to Know About Vaping

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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.

The 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 16 percent of high school kids vape. That means vaping has surpassed cigarette use in teenagers. It’s important to learn the facts about vaping so you can educate your kids about the risks.

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.

What Is Vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or vaporizer. The vapor is usually produced from a liquid called e-juice or e-liquid.

E-juice, which comes in a cartridge, usually consists of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol as well as flavorings. It may or may not contain nicotine.

The vapor looks thicker than traditional cigarette smoke. It also tends to smell better and it quickly dissipates into the air.

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 they resemble traditional cigarettes.

Legal Considerations for Minors

E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco.

In all 50 states, e-cigarettes cannot be purchased by anyone under the age of 18.

Despite the laws, minors have found ways to get their hands on e-cigarettes. Many of them are purchasing e-cigarettes online.

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 percent of the time.

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.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns, “e-cigarettes are threatening to addict a new generation to nicotine.” The AAP recommends stricter laws to reduce 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.

Nicotine may be more harmful to adolescents than adults. Brain development continues through about age 25 and nicotine may harm the developing brain.

But, 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
  • Ultrafine particles that could be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to lung disease

Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, the long-term health effects of users and bystanders are not completely clear.​​

Is Vaping Better Than Traditional Cigarettes?

Vaping proponents have argued that vaping is a step down from smoking—and can eventually help smokers quit.

The American Heart Association and the Royal College of Physicians say vaping can help people quit smoking. But, e-cigarettes are not approved for smoking cessation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The AAP says vaping should not be used to help people quit smoking and 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

Your teen is likely to think e-cigarettes are much cooler than traditional cigarettes and your teen may insist you don’t know what you’re talking about since e-cigarettes probably weren’t around when you were young.

But it’s important to hold conversations about the dangers of vaping. 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 about what she can say if she’s offered an e-cigarette. If your teen ever finds herself in a situation where people are vaping, encourage her to excuse herself from the situation. Talk about the health risks of being a bystander, as well as the temptation she may experience to try it for herself.

To gain credibility, acknowledge the reasons your teen may want to vape—all his friends are doing it, vaping seems like the cool thing to do, the flavors are fun, etc. Then, discuss the downsides to 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 Prevention 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. Here are some of the signs to be on the lookout for:

  • Sweet smells. E-cigarettes don’t put off the same odor as a traditional cigarette. They may smell like a variety of flavors, like bubble gum or fruit. But those sweet smells may be a sign your teen is vaping in the other room.
  • Bloodshot eyes. There aren’t many physical signs that a teen is vaping but bloodshot eyes can be a clue.
  • Irritability. If your teen is moodier than usual, it could be a sign of nicotine withdrawal.

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. Since e-cigarettes resemble pens, 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 your concerns. 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, so quitting is the best way to reduce the likelihood that your child will pick up the habit.

If you continue to vape, don’t do so around your children. Keep in mind:

  • 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, 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.

Sources:

Alternative Tobacco Products May Be Just As Dangerous As Cigarettes. AAAS - The World's Largest General Scientific Society. Published February 15, 2016.

Facts For Parents About E-Cigarettes & Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems. HealthyChildren.org.

Smoking & Tobacco Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco-and-E-Cigarettes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Issues Sweeping Recommendations on Tobacco and E-Cigarettes. Published October 26, 2015.

Williams RS, Derrick J, Ribisl KM. Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors via the InternetJAMA Pediatrics. 2015;169(3). 

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