This fall I was inundated with requests from curious and concerned parents and schools about vaping. Vaping among youth has skyrocketed. Particularly I heard questions about the use of one e-cigarette brand, JUUL, and adults are trying to figure out how to respond. Many had no idea that vaping products contain nicotine that can damage a teenager’s developing brain and lead to addiction. One thing we know: simply talking with teens about these products can help protect them.
That’s why, this summer the Massachusetts Department of Public Health launched a statewide information campaign called The New Look of Nicotine Addiction and it’s all about vaping. The website of the campaign, GetOutraged.org, is a resource to help parents of teenagers better understand what vaping is, how vaping can harm their teens developing brains, and to provide ideas for how parents can talk with their children about vaping and JUULing.
Youth are being targeted by the vaping and tobacco industries. Unfortunately, their tactics are working with almost 1 in 4 high school youth in MA reporting that they use e-cigarettes. How? Vape “juices” and “e-liquids” come in thousands of different flavors, such as Swedish Fish, s’mores, and mango. Sweet flavors attract young people and are the leading reason that youth are vaping.
Know the Facts
A few basic facts go a long way toward helping you talk with your teens.
- E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called e-hookahs, JUULs, mods, vape pens, vapes, tank systems, e-cigs, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). They are battery-operated vaporizers that simulate the action and sensation of smoking. They can look like USB sticks, pens or other everyday items.
- Young people may think these products simply contain flavored water. That’s not true. E-cigarettes can come pre-filled with e-liquids or e-liquids can be added to the device. The e-liquids generally consist of propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine and flavorings that appeal to youth.
- E-cigarettes produce an aerosol, NOT water vapor, which users inhale from the device and exhale. According to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), the aerosol can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances including nicotine, cancer-causing chemicals, ultrafine particles, flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease, volatile organic compounds such as benzene, and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead.
Why Parents & Adults Should be Concerned
These are ample reasons to be concerned about youth vaping. Most importantly, nicotine is a highly addictive substance and young people are uniquely at risk for long-term long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control. Teens can get addicted more easily than adults and nicotine can prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs.
How can you talk with your young people about vaping?
First, be patient and ready to listen. Know that there is no perfect talk and consider your talks to be learning opportunities for both you and your young person. You may have some facts but concede that you don’t have all the answers. This will go a long way to keep your kids from going on the defensive. If you show genuine curiosity about what your child knows and experiences you may learn a lot and be better able to gauge the vaping issues in your community and what you can do about them.
For more information about vaping, please visit GetOutraged.org. There you can see what vaping products look like, get more answers to frequently asked questions, and learn more about how to talk with your kids about vaping. There is also a toolkit of useful resources for schools and community-based organizations.
Talk with your kids about vaping and make sure they know it’s harmful. I am available to work with schools, coalitions, employers and community-based organizations around these and other tobacco-related issues. Contact me at 617-471-8400, ext. 138 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about resources in your community.
Greater-Boston Tobacco Free Community Partnership
Bay State Community Services