The first thing you need to be aware of in regards to vaping? More teens are doing it—every single day. According to a recent study published by the University of Michigan, over 37 percent of 12 graders say they vaped sometime in 2018—compared to less than 28 percent in 2017. While the dangers of smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products are well known, the Surgeon General says that e-cigarettes are also a huge health gamble—especially for young adults. Risks include nicotine addiction, long-term harm to developing brains (including lowered impulse control), respiratory issues, and an increased propensity towards regular tobacco use. Recently, the JUUL brand has dominated the negative media coverage, for several reasons, including the fact that is doesn’t offer nicotine-free options (which some teens may not realize, believing they are vaping flavoring only) and was an early adopter of even higher percentage nicotine pods. Plus, it’s the runaway hit of the industry, with 800 percent growth last year alone and a 71 percent share of the market.
In order to fully understand what parents should be focused on in this area, we went to two experts on the front line of the vaping epidemic, Susanne Tanski, MD MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, and a practicing pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (and mom of three), and Douglas Kamerow, MD, MPH, a Washington, DC-based family doctor, prevention specialist, and former Assistant Surgeon General. Here’s what they had to say:
There’s More Than Just JUUL
Yes, JUUL is the industry leader, but there are other, less expensive brands, like Stig, Lush, Suorin and Phix. “It’s important to be aware of the range of products, and that while your kid could be telling the truth if they say they don’t JUUL, they may still be using another vape!” says Tanski.
These Devices Are Particularly Attractive to Kids
E-cigarettes—particularly the JUUL—are appealing to young adults and children, says Kamerow. “The JUUL looks more like a little USB flash drive than a cigarette or vape pen. The nicotine cartridges (“pods”) are color-coded by flavor and are easily interchangeable. Lots of kid-friendly flavors are available: mango, cucumber, crème, and fruit, for example,” says Kamerow.
Vaping Is Harder to Detect Than Smoking—and JUULs Are Especially So
“JUUL was among the first low-vapor vaping products, so users can vape more discreetly,” says Tanski. Of course, any vaping devices don’t leave users smelling like smoke, which makes it harder to tell if your teen is vaping. Because they’re so small, they can be hidden with little effort.
There’s A Good Chance Your Child—or Their Friends—Are Vaping
“One in 5, or 3.7 million U.S. adolescents, report using a vape in the past month,” says Tanski. While these devices can’t legally be sold to those under 18 (and in some states, 21), that doesn’t always stop them from getting into the hands of younger kids—just like cigarettes. “Older kids buy them up in quantity and re-sell to minors in school and afterwards,’ says Kamerow.
There is a Misunderstanding That They are Safe
In addition to the known risks of vaping mentioned above, the devices are too new to really understand what long-term effects they can have on health. “Even though the almost pure nicotine delivered by JUUL is not as harmful as the cancer-causing burnt tobacco from cigarettes, it is easier to get addicted to JUUL than to cigarettes. There are plenty of reports of kids starting with JUULs and becoming compulsive vapers and even transitioning to conventional cigarettes,” says Kamerow.
It’s Crucial To Talk to Your Kids…
You’ll want to address vaping at the same time you talk about smoking, drinking, and using illegal drugs—at the start of middle school if not before. But before you do, learn the lingo. “It’s important that parents use the same language as their kids,” says Tanski. For instance, nobody (including your kids) uses the term e-cigarettes—they’re vapes. And be clear about your expectations. “Bottom line: Tell your kids you don’t want them using (or even trying) JUULs,” says Kamerow.
…And Get Them Help If They Need It
If they are vaping, they may likely need professional help to stop. “Most kids who vape do not recognize they are dependent until they try to stop, so they may be surprised that they have trouble,” says Tanski, who suggest speaking to your child’s pediatrician if they are vaping or if you suspect they are and aren’t sure how to get through to them.
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