Submitted by Dr. Sheree Sharpe, Family Practice, Kaiser Permanente Steele Street Medical Center

Teen vaping has increased dramatically over the past couple years and has become an area of grave concern due to several fatalities associated with the product. According to the Washington State Department of Health’s Healthy Youth Survey, vaping has increased to up to 69% among eighth graders in the last two years. Also, now one in five tenth graders vape. This indicates a significant shift of teens who smoked tobacco products, after years of diligent work to eradicate its prevalence. 

Vaping is the use of an electronic device that heats a liquid, producing an aerosol. The liquid usually contains nicotine and flavorings as well as other chemicals that make the aerosol. Vaping is also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-hookahs, mods, vape pens or JUULs, tank systems and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). A recent CDC study showed that 99% of the e-cigarettes sold in the United States contained nicotine, which is the highly addictive drug.

Several surveys demonstrate that there are fatal misconceptions about vaping among teens. Two thirds of teens believe that vaping liquid only contains flavorings. Only 13% recognized that vaping products contain nicotine, a chemical that harms the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, impulse and mood.

How to Prevent Teen Vaping 

We as a society have to take the necessary steps to encourage our teens to make smart choices. We have to start the conversation about risky behavior now as children are experimenting as well as being exposed at younger ages. Check out the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit and the CDC’s e-cigarette facts site to educate yourself on vaping. 

One conversation that works well is encouraging teens to think about who has their best interest in mind. Why are these companies marketing to kids? Why are they making fruit flavors? Why wouldn’t they tell you there’s addictive nicotine in them? Who benefits when you try vaping? Helping your teen be a smart consumer can help them make better choices about this and other health issues. 

We can also make sure our kids are aware what is in vaping products. Explain what nicotine is and stress that it is designed to get users addicted. Talk about how few controls are on the contents of vape products and that testers have found dangerous chemicals in some. And tell your children and teens about the illness caused by vaping that has spread to nearly 1,000 people. 

Finally, with this issue as with any, we help our children any time we remind them that peer pressure is real but each person is responsible for their own choices. Help your children develop strategies for assessing choices on their own and resisting the pressure to do something they don’t want to. Remind them they can walk away, call you or even use you as an excuse. 

How Do I Know if My Teen is Vaping? 

Unlike the strong smell of cigarettes, evidence of vaping can be harder to detect. Because most teens choose sweet flavors for vaping, they can leave an unusual sweet smell on hair or clothing. Vape devices are all battery powered, so unusual chargers, often USBs, can be a sign your child owns one. Vaping can also cause dry mouth, coughing, acne around the mouth and dry eyes. There can also be a significant changes in behavior, mood as well as school grades. If you see these signs, it could be time to have an honest conversation with your teen. 

How Can I Help My Teen Quit? 

Teenage brains are unusually susceptible to nicotine addiction, so quitting may not be as easy as just punishing them and taking the vaping device away. Finding an alternative activity to engage them can help distract from cravings. Also, the state Department of Health has developed an app to help quit vaping. If your child is showing signs of addiction, consider talking to your care provider. Cognitive behavioral therapy or even nicotine patches might be an option for serious addictions. 

Vaping is a problem we didn’t have as children, but remember that the epidemic we’re seeing now is the result of a product known to be marketed to children and made to please children’s tastes. Be patient and ask for help if you need it.  

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