What Every Parent Needs to Know About Vaping

With vaping-related illnesses and deaths in the United States skyrocketing, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared vaping among youth a national epidemic.

In 2019 alone, over 800 vaping-related lung-injury cases have been reported with a dozen deaths linked to vaping as well. Usage rates among teens and adolescents have doubled since 2017 with 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students reporting usage of e-cigarettes in the past month. In response, the states of Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have already enacted vaping bans, while Illinois, New Jersey, and Delaware are considering similar laws.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the lung diseases appear to be linked to vaping THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces a high. However, the biggest killer in the long term may turn out to be the highly addictive nicotine. In fact, most flavors distributed by Juul, a popular brand pronounced “jewel,” contain 5% nicotine, and one JUUL pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.

“A hit off an e-cigarette or vape may contain more nicotine than a cigarette,” said Dr. Yolanda Evans of Seattle Children’s. “Some teens think they can stop vaping anytime, not recognizing that the nicotine is addictive.”

Nicotine exposure is known to harm brain development, which continues until the age of 25, impacts learning and attention, and increases a risk of future addictions. Regular vaping is also linked to heightened risks of heart attacks and seizures.

A large draw to vaping is that e-cigarettes come in kid-friendly flavors. The Los Angeles Times reported that “the flavor ingredients in some tobacco were the same of those in Kool-Aid, Jolly Ranchers, and Life Savers.” In addition, a national survey by the FCA reported that 80% of young people vaped because “it comes in flavors I like.”

“Unlike cigarettes, vape products aren’t associated with a foul odor, bad breath and other cosmetic drawbacks,” Evans said. “The products’ numerous flavors can also be really appealing for teens.”

E-cigarettes also come in many shapes and sizes, some of which look like common items like pens and USB flash drives.

As parents, our challenge is to proactively educate ourselves on vaping and be on the alert for symptoms such as asking for more money than usual, dry mouth, nosebleeds, a frequent sweet scent on your child, or difficulty sleeping. Above all, we must be willing to have honest conversations with our kids.

“I recommend parents have a set of expectations and have clear consequences if these expectations are not met,” said Evans. “It’s important to let them know you’re there to support them. For teens, having support and clear boundaries can make a difference in their e-cigarette use and have a positive impact on their health.”

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