Teens and vaping: What parents should know

Lake Regional Health System
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Most e-cigs contain nicotine, the addictive chemical that hooks smokers on regular cigarettes.

Is your teen smoking electronic cigarettes?

It isn't always easy to tell. For one thing, they may refer to it by words you might not recognize, like vaping, Juuling, e-juice and dripping. The e-cig devices are also made to look like everyday items. A device might disguise itself as a pen, a car key fob or a flash drive.

But there are a lot of reasons why you should know whether your teen is smoking e-cigs, or vaping. Most e-cigs contain nicotine, the addictive chemical that hooks smokers on regular cigarettes. That means e-cigs are addictive too.

“Nicotine isn't a benign drug, and it’s particularly harmful to young people,” said Lake Regional Pediatrician Kimber Guinn, D.O., who cares for infants, children and teens at Lake Regional clinics in Lake Ozark and Lebanon. “The human brain continues to develop until about age 25, so using nicotine at younger ages can harm a still-growing brain. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory and attention.”

How do e-cigs work?

E-cigs turn liquids, or e-juice, into an aerosolized vapor that users inhale. The vapor is made when the liquid comes in contact with small heated coils within the device. Sometimes kids forgo vaping through the mouthpiece and drip the liquid directly onto a heated coil. This is called dripping.

E-cigarette liquids come in a variety of flavors that appeal to kids. Those include fruit, candy, coffee and chocolate. In addition to nicotine, they might also contain:

• Antifreeze.

• Diethylene glycol.

• Carcinogens like nitrosamines.

One of the so-called benefits of vaping is that it isn't as harmful as smoking regular cigarettes. That may be true; however, e-cigs haven't been around long enough to study their long-term effects. But less toxic doesn't mean non-toxic.

“E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless and has been associated with an outbreak of lung injury,” Dr. Guinn said. “Moreover, teens who vape may be more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes in the future.”

Be a role model

Talk to your teen about the dangers of vaping. E-cigarettes are commonly used by youth, so don’t just assume that you don’t need to have this conversation with your child. In 2020, CDC and FDA data showed that at least 3.6 million U.S. youth, including about 1 in 5 high school students and about 1 in 20 middle school students, used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Be a good role model by not vaping or smoking yourself. It can be challenging to quit smoking or vaping, but talk to your child about the importance of prioritizing health. Let them know that nicotine triggers a brain chemical that makes you feel good, causing many people to get addicted and crave more nicotine. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, teens can be more vulnerable to addiction than adults, meaning nicotine addiction can happen quicker than they realize.

“Although the best thing is to never start vaping in the first place, if your child does vape, let them know that quitting may be hard but possible,” Dr. Guinn said. “If they need help quitting vaping, they can create a personalized quit plan and make a strategy for combatting expected challenges at teen.smokefree.gov.”

You can find more information about the risks of vaping by visiting CDC.gov/e-cigarettes.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is an ongoing series of articles to help parents and children get ready to return to classes. Watch for more articles to appear in the Lake Sun.