In recent years, we’ve seen cigarette smoking rates decline. While on the surface this is great news for the nation’s health, an alarming number of teens are instead beginning to use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.
A December 2018 study supported by the National Institutes of Health revealed some alarming statistics:
● Nearly 46 percent of eighth graders and nearly 67 percent of sophomores said vaping devices are fairly or very easy to get.
● The study showed a 6 percent increase in the number of high school students who used e-cigarettes in 2018 compared with 2017.
● Vaping among high school seniors nearly doubled, with 1 in 5 participating seniors reporting vaping nicotine in the previous month.
● And 1 in 10 eighth graders said they had vaped nicotine in the past year.
Even though we don’t yet have long-term data to fully understand the risks of vaping, the substances involved have been shown to have harmful effects. For starters, nicotine addiction can increase problems with anxiety and depression, as well as predispose teens to other addictions later in life.
Parents and doctors must work together to help this generation of kids avoid nicotine addiction. I’ve put together the following talking points to help start constructive conversations with teens about the risks of vaping and nicotine use.
Related reading: Dangerous Trend: E-cigarettes and young people
“Even though we don’t yet have long-term data to fully understand the risks of vaping, the substances involved have been shown to have harmful effects. For starters, nicotine addiction can increase problems with anxiety and depression, as well as predispose teens to other addictions later in life.”
What can parents and doctors do about vaping?
Get a little nosy
Teens deserve a measure of privacy, but safety is priority No. 1. Ask your teen about spending habits and check his or her bank account to get an idea of where their money is going. Also, take time to familiarize yourself with the various devices and refill containers on the market so you can help protect your child’s health. Vaping devices resemble pens and flash drives, making them easy to conceal.
Try not to get mad
Yelling and screaming upon discovery of a vaping device is a surefire way to not get through to your teen. Instead, try to remain calm. Take the device away and destroy the teen’s stash of nicotine. State that, should the behavior reoccur, the same thing will happen.
Put vaping consequences in their terms
Calmly explain – without lecturing – that nicotine is dangerous and that other chemicals in the vape liquid are harmful as well. If your teen is in sports or other extracurricular activities, make sure he/she understands the school’s vaping policies. The risk of getting kicked out of soccer or band might be enough to encourage him/her to quit.
Prepare for grumpiness
Teens typically find it difficult to taper use in order to quit. Going cold turkey is usually the best route. However, after two to four days without vaping, your teen might become grouchy or testy due to nicotine withdrawal. These side effects are temporary, and some teens might benefit from nicotine gum or another cessation product. If your teen becomes extremely agitated or aggressive, contact his/her doctor or a psychiatrist for help.
Avoid comparing drugs
Teens will be quick to suggest that vaping is less addictive or dangerous than drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or using marijuana. However, “better” or “worse” is subjective when it comes to drugs. Health damage depends on frequency of use, amount used at once, and the way drugs enter the body. For example, teens might use a vaping device multiple times during a night out with friends, ingesting more nicotine than normal. Rather than calling out certain drugs, consider more inclusive statements such as, “No addictive substances are allowed.”
E-cigarette use climbing among cancer patients
A new study by UT Southwestern oncologist Nina Sanford exposes what she calls an alarming trend. E-cigarette use is climbing among cancer patients and survivors, and it could have dire consequences in the future.
A few closing thoughts
It takes courage and commitment to quit. I know people who attempt to go from traditional cigarettes to vaping before quitting nicotine altogether. However, many just end up using e-cigarettes long-term instead. E-cigarettes do have fewer known carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer). Regardless, nicotine is not good for anyone’s body and is addictive, whether it comes from an e-cigarette or a traditional cigarette.
We offer a smoking cessation program at UT Southwestern to help people 18 and older stop smoking. We want to provide people in North Texas the opportunity to get help in quitting with counseling and medications, if necessary.
Unfortunately, social media and online advertising for vaping products will continue and perhaps increase unless we take a stand and raise awareness on the subject. My hope is that the U.S. eventually will ban these advertisements, as was done with cigarette advertising many years ago.
We’ve come a long way in reducing tobacco use in the past half century. Now, it’s time to adapt our messaging and educate teens and parents about new products that nicotine companies develop and the potential health hazards that go along with them.
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