For many years I didn’t see many patients using tobacco. I admit I’ve been lax in talking about risks because there seemed to be more pressing things to discuss in my limited time at appointments. Recently I’m seeing more kids who are trying nicotine due to e-cigarettes and vaping. These are marketed as a safer option, giving kids a false sense of safety while filling their desire to take risks. Vaping is not safe or cool.
Tobacco is a problem
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
Nearly all tobacco use begins during adolescence, when developing brains are most at risk of developing addictions.
In 2016, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school (11.3%) and middle school (4.3%) students. In 2017, nearly a third of high school seniors report vaping.
About 3 million adolescents in the US vape. Those who start using nicotine by vaping are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes.
Vaping by many names and looks
There are many terms used to describe the use of e-cigarettes, so it can be easy for parents to miss that kids are talking about it. The devices themselves can look like other common items.
Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, or vaping devices are all terms used to describe the device itself.
The devices themselves can be easily mistaken for other things. ENDS can look like traditional tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. But they can also look like flashlights, flash drives, or pens, so easily hidden from adults.
Some of the more common terms for the behavior include vaping and juuling.
Dripping is similar to vaping, but uses the liquid nicotine directly on heated coils.
Liquid nicotine is called e-liquid or smoke juice.
E-cigarette use is a safer option? No!
One of the selling points for e-cigarettes is that they could be a safer option than regular cigarettes and a way for smokers to quit.
Kids are confusing the “safer than cigarettes” propaganda to mean safe. It’s NOT safer than not smoking. Period.
In fact, there are many studies showing that the amount of carcinogens (cancer causing agents) in e-cigarettes is substantial.
For parents who choose to vape in the home to help prevent their kids from inhaling secondhand smoke, you might want to even reconsider that. Vaping releases chemicals into the air that can cause problems.
Accidental ingestion of liquid nicotine is a growing problem. Common symptoms of ingestion include vomiting, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, increased saliva, and feeling shaky. One teaspoon of concentrated liquid nicotine can be fatal for the average 26-pound toddler.
Liquid nicotine is enticing and available
E-cigarette juices are sold in flavors like fruit, candy, coffee and chocolate, so tell me they’re not looking to gain young customers.
Nicotine is addictive. The more kids vape or smoke, the more addicted they become.
Although legally most states prohibit the sale of nicotine products to adolescents, liquid nitrogen is easily available to kids online.
Sadly these products are highly marketed to our kids. Sellers know that if adolescents try it, they are likely to become long term customers of various nicotine products.
Teen and tween brains
Our frontal lobe helps us make healthy choices, but it’s not fully formed until our mid-twenties. This leaves teens at risk for making very unhealthy choices and increased risk of addictions. Teen brains crave stimulation. They take risks to fulfil this craving.
As their brains are growing, experiences and substances affect it. Developing brains can learn and remember things efficiently, but negative experiences and substances also get integrated efficiently. This means teens are more likely to develop addictions than adults.
Kids who vape just once are more likely to try other types of tobacco. Their developing brains make it easier for them to get hooked.
One in 4 teens who use an addictive substance will become addicted, compared to one in 25 who first use an addictive substance after the age of 21 years.
About 90% of adult smokers started before their 18th birthday.
Talk to your kids
Our kids are bombarded daily with suggestions and choices.
Talk to your kids about all risky behaviors because they do listen.
Help them understand the risk as well as what to do to avoid peer pressure.
Encourage them to come to you with questions and concerns by remaining non-judgemental and being present. Encourage family meals and activities. Spend time together without screens – turn off the phones!
Dr. Deborah Burton has a great podcast on the subject, including show notes in written form if you prefer that. See her post, Ep 12: JUUL: Vaping Nicotine is Especially Hazardous to Kids
Dr. Melissa Welby, a psychiatrist, shares risks about electronic cigarettes and vaping in What is Juul? Hint: Teens love it! Find out what you need to know about Juul.