Vaping among teens is nothing short of an epidemic. According to the CDC, nearly 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2020. With appealing flavors like candy and bubble gum marketed to children, combined with peer pressure, it can be challenging to say no. Awareness and communication are vital tools in preventing teen and tween vaping–and your pediatrician can help.
What Are Signs My Child Is Vaping?
The legal age for vaping in Virginia is 21, but teen vaping remains a common practice, even in schools and public places. E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. Because there’s no smoke, vaping can be easier to hide than traditional cigarette use. Parents should be familiar with the brand names of vapes children may be using–including the ubiquitous JUUL. Parents should also be aware of what e-cigarettes look like. They come in various shapes and sizes, and many of them look like USB devices. Here are some potential signs your child may be vaping, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Dry cough or wheezing.
- Increase in lung infections.
- Your child gets out of breath when physically active.
- Changes in school performance.
- New behaviors–especially if your teen becomes more secretive.
- Aggressive or angry behavior can indicate nicotine withdrawal or cravings.
What Are the Dangers of Vaping?
Many young people and adults believe that vaping is less dangerous than traditional cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes present a range of health hazards. According to the CDC, young people are at higher risk from nicotine use because their brains are still developing.
- Nicotine can affect concentration and memory and impact school performance.
- In addition to nicotine, vapes contain other harmful chemicals, including heavy metals, diethylene glycol (a toxic substance that contributes to their sweet taste) and several known carcinogens.
- Ingredients in the vape aerosol may do long-term damage to the lungs and suppress immune function.
- Vaping may contribute to COVID-19 infection in teens, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
- Chemicals in e-cigarettes present oral health risks, and sweeteners in vape liquid can promote tooth decay.
- E-cigarettes can be a gateway to cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. According to the AAP, vapes “renormalize smoking behaviors.”
- E-cigarette devices can also deliver marijuana and other drugs. According to the CDC, vaping increases the potential for future addiction to other drugs.
How Can I Talk With My Child About Vaping?
Talking with your child about vaping can be scary, and parents should be prepared for answers they don’t necessarily want to hear. However, honest communication is essential. Before you talk, inform yourself about delivery systems and terminology. Parents should also set a good example by not using tobacco products. The American Lung Association offers several tips for talking with your child about vaping:
- Acknowledge your child’s independence and appeal to their good judgment.
- Ask questions and get their thoughts on vaping.
- If your child admits to trying vaping, acknowledge their honesty and make a plan for moving forward.
- Discuss the marketing strategies of big tobacco and how they target young people.
- Share health concerns but avoid scare tactics.
- Connect with your child’s interests and discuss how vaping can impact their goals, including sports and academic success.
How Can My Pediatrician Help Prevent Vaping?
Pediatricians around the country are working with parents to prevent and address teen vaping. Strategies include:
- Screening for vaping during well visits for patients 12 and older.
- Providing education about the health effects of vaping to upper elementary and younger middle school students–before most are exposed to e-cigarettes.
- Offering prevention and communication strategies for parents.
- Providing support for teens who want to quit.
At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, we understand the unique challenges of parenting teens. As children get older, our concerns go way beyond the basics of nutrition and immunizations. We offer support for teens and their families, including an adolescent medicine specialist on staff. We’re also here to support parents without judgment as we work together for a healthy future for our patients of all ages.