Just when we thought we had a whole generation convinced that smoking was unhealthy and uncool, along came vaping.
Vaping Runs Rampant
Now, not a day goes by that we don’t hear from parents who are worried about this scourge affecting their teenagers. If you’re lucky enough to be unaware of this trend, vaping, or JUULing to use a popular brand name, refers to the practice of inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette device. This involves heating a liquid that can contain nicotine, marijuana, and any number of flavorings or additives containing a host of chemicals no one can pronounce.
Because vaping devices are easy to conceal, often no larger than a thumb drive, and they produce a quick puff of vapor that is difficult to detect, your kids will probably tell you they have seen others vaping in the bathrooms and hallways at school, and even right in their classrooms. Most of them think it’s safer than smoking, and many of them don’t understand the incredibly addictive properties of the nicotine they are inhaling.
But addiction to nicotine (or cannabis, if they are using it for that purpose) is not the only risk.
New Cause for Alarm
A new article from The Washington Post by Lena H. Sun reports that a mysterious contaminant linked to vaping products is causing severe, and in some cases life-threatening, respiratory distress in hundreds of people across the country. In fact, multiple deaths have now been reported in several states due to vaping-related lung illness.
Here is what we know, according to the Washington Post’s report:
- Investigators have identified a chemical that seems to be common to the mysterious lung illnesses: it is an oil derived from vitamin E.
- Health officials say it is too early to know for sure whether this is causing the severe illnesses.
- Investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the oil in cannabis products in samples collected from patients who fell ill.
- Vitamin E is not known to be harmful as a vitamin supplement or when applied topically. It has oil-like properties that when inhaled could cause the types of respiratory distress symptoms patients have reported, such as cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
- Authorities say no single vaping device or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses. They are not ruling out other possible sources, including nicotine vaping products.
What Can Parents Do?
So let’s get this straight: we’re fighting a battle against an almost invisible enemy, and one that our kids think is relatively harmless. And we all know that telling our teenagers to “just say no” is not effective. (With apologies to Nancy Reagan, that was never the answer.)
If you’re worried that your teenager might be vaping, or tempted to try it, here’s what experts recommend:
1. Get your teen talking – and check your judgment at the door.
Steven Schroeder, M.D., director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California San Francisco, recommends asking a few open-ended questions in a non-confrontational manner. Instead of coming right out with, “I think you might be vaping,” try starting with: “I hear a lot about vaping in the news. What do you think about it?” As a follow-up, maybe ask if they are seeing vaping at their school, or why they think it has become so popular.
2. Give them the facts.
Says Schroeder, “Many teens know cigarettes are bad for you but think vaping is inconsequential.” They may not realize that a JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes. Share with them what you know about the report on the recent cases of severe lung illnesses, saying: “I’m concerned about this because I think a lot of teens and adults don’t understand the risks they are taking with their health.” Emphasize that in addition to nicotine, there can be many other unknown and potentially harmful additives in vaping products.
3. Provide support.
If you’re worried that your teenager may be addicted to vaping, offering education and support are your best tactics. This is Quitting, a smoking cessation program developed by Truth Initiative in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, offers a texting program. Teens can enroll by texting ‘QUIT’ to 706-222-QUIT. The American Lung Association also offers education and cessation programs at lung.org.
4. Don’t go it alone.
Schroeder suggests enlisting the help of your teen’s pediatrician. “Just the authority of a pediatrician talking to a teen in the absence of his parents might be helpful,” he says. Your pediatrician may also be able to recommend a counseling or support group for your teen to attend.
While it may be cold comfort for parents to know they are not alone in this struggle, there is one good piece of news on the horizon: Michigan just became the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, a small step in the right direction. Hopefully, others will follow suit and better regulation, combined with education, will begin to turn the tide on this dangerous, and potentially deadly, trend.