Parents who are worried about their teens vaping have good reason to be concerned. As of October 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has received reports of 1,299 vaping-related lung injuries and 26 deaths. While all of the patients had a history of using e-cigarette or vaping products, the CDC has not identified the causes of the lung injuries in all the cases. The current recommendation is to avoid using all e-cigarette or vaping products, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or THC.
Marketed as a tool to wean adults off cigarettes, e-cigarettes have grown in popularity with teens. A recent University at Buffalo (UB) study notes that use among teens has exploded, from less than 2 percent in 2011 to more than 27 percent in 2018. According to the CDC, vaping is now the most commonly used tobacco product among teens.
The UB study did offer some good news for families: parents do have influence when it comes to their teens’ vaping habits. A group of teens surveyed by UB researchers said their parents were a source of information about e-cigarettes, and teens who did not vape were more likely to have parents who expressed negative views about vaping.
Published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, the UB study examined adolescents’ perceptions of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, as well as where they got their information. The study did not ask about products containing marijuana, but researchers noted that the use of e-cigarettes of any kind can lead to other risky behaviors, such as marijuana and alcohol use.
In the wake of recent vaping-related illnesses and deaths, teenage perceptions of the products are crucial to guiding the development of interventions, says Eunhee Park, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor in the UB School of Nursing. For example, researchers suggested that increased regulation of flavored e-cigarettes might be a promising prevention strategy, as the variety of flavors available for e-cigarettes was noted as an attractive feature for teenagers who vaped.
Compared to other illicit substances, all teens in the study had a more positive view of e-cigarettes. And they acknowledged the popularity and acceptance of vaping among their peers.
Although the harms associated with cigarettes were well known among adolescents, the majority of study participants had only a vague understanding of the potential dangers of e-cigarette use.
Participants listed family, advertisements, peers, the internet, and social media sites such as Instagram as sources of information about e-cigarettes.
Non-users Differ in a Few Key Areas
While students who vaped viewed e-cigarettes as safe, non-users considered the product to be less harmful than cigarettes, but still dangerous and addictive.
Gateway drug concerns:
Non-users were the only participants who viewed e-cigarettes as a gateway to other drugs and risky behaviors.
Non-users were more likely to have parents who viewed vaping negatively. Participants who used e-cigarettes, on the other hand, reported having older siblings who used the products to quit smoking. This influenced their perception of e-cigarettes as beneficial and potentially providing easier access to vaping products, says Park.
Advice for Parents
In his roles as a nurse practitioner, clinical social worker, and professor and director of NYU’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos has seen families struggling with e-cigarette use and how to talk about it.
Teens are not concerned about health.
“Parents tend to emphasize the health risks and consequences of vaping, because that’s their chief concern,” Guilamo-Ramos says. “But health often isn’t the concern of teens. They focus on the short-term benefits, such as reducing stress or liking the social aspect or flavors of e-cigarettes.”
Have multiple conversations.
Noting that older teens tend to report their parents are less involved in their lives, he recommends that parents have many conversations about risky behaviors, not just one big conversation. He also suggests parents share their views about the health risks of e-cigarettes, while also trying to understand their teen’s world. Parents can help teens work through their own responses and alternatives when presented with the chance to try vaping.
Try and indirect approach.
For teens who are resistant to direct conversation on the topic, Guilamo-Ramos suggests an indirect approach. Raise a topic in the news—like recent vaping deaths and illnesses—and ask your teen what they think and why. Use it as an opportunity to have a conversation.
Many teens like to share their opinions. Another option is to ask your teen’s advice on a potential scenario. “I have a friend who found vaping materials in her son’s backpack. What do you think she should do?” You can then react to your teen’s response with your own thoughts and information.
Share the facts.
For children who cite the benefits of older teens or adults using e-cigarettes as a way to wean off cigarettes, parents can make clear some key facts:
- E-cigarettes in this case should be viewed as a treatment, not a social outlet
- Medical professionals should be involved
- One cartridge contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes
- The CDC’s latest recommendation is that people refrain from using e-cigarette or vaping products that contain nicotine
Vaping has gone from a little-known activity to an epidemic in a relatively short amount of time. But it’s good for parents to remember they do have some influence over their kids. New regulations and laws will help reduce the number of kids indulging in this potentially dangerous habit. But Guilamo-Ramos notes that one of the most important things you can do as a parent is have ongoing conversations with your teen. Keep the lines of communication open. Discuss what’s going on in their life, the challenges they’re dealing with, and any health concerns they, or you, may have.