By Carmen Morrow, Chemical Health Prevention Specialist,
REACH Counselor, Check & Connect Mentor, ZAP & MEADE Coalition
With today’s changing drug trends, parents are under more pressure than ever to adjust their talking points to be effective, according to the “US Department of Health & Human Services; a 2018 report from our Surgeon General.” This “Vaping” trend has become an epidemic as 1.7 million high school students used e-cigarettes in the past month. That’s half a million middle school students. What was promoted to help adult smokers quit has become an epidemic among teens. Millions of teens now struggle with a nicotine addiction.
The combination of increased stress levels, wanting a quick stress relief, limited knowledge and practice of healthy coping skills added to the epidemic of teens vaping. The E-Cigarette companies appear to be targeting our children with flavored e-liquid juices like tutti frutti, cotton candy, and sour gummy worms.
The vaping epidemic has parents asking; “how do I talk to my child about this new craze?” According to “The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Vaping-What Parents should know” here are some examples of what to say when your child asks:
Q: Isn’t vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?
Your child is exposed to less toxic substances when vaping (as compared to smoking), but there are still significant concerns. Their lungs are exposed to fine particles, metals, other toxins and nicotine which can harm them. You may use the example that, “Driving 90 miles an hour with a seat belt on is safer than without one, but neither is safe.” The same goes for vaping. It may be a safer alternative than smoking cigarettes, but neither one is without harm.
Q: They are just flavorings, so what’s the big deal?
Flavorings are common and considered safe when added to food and eaten, but relatively little is known about the long-term effects on your lungs. For example, there is a chemical called diacetyl that is used as a butter flavoring for candy, yogurt and popcorn, among other foods, and has been found in several e-juices. How these additives interact with the stomach is different than how it may affect your lungs. Diacetyl has been linked to “popcorn lung” which results in scarred lung tissue in workers who have inhaled diacetyl in popcorn factories. Also, e-liquids contain more than just flavorings. Whether it contains nicotine or not, teens also may be taking in fine particles, metals and other toxins. In some cases, teens have vaped e-liquids thinking it didn’t contain nicotine, when in fact it did. Deliberate or accidental exposure to e-liquids, whether from drinking, eye or skin contact or injecting it, can be severe, causing seizures or even death.
Q: Everyone is doing it, so why do you care?
You can say, “I know you may say this because of what you see in school or even on social media, but the real fact of the matter is that the majority of seniors (and more in lower grades) aren’t vaping. While it may be a popular activity for some kids, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe.”
Q: How can I respond to peer pressure?
You can say, “Let’s figure out what you may be comfortable saying to your peers. It’s best to be direct and use assertive body language (i.e., direct eye contact with strong posture) and to say something like, ‘No thanks, I’m not interested,’ or ‘You guys can, but I don’t want to.’” Another strategy for younger teens is to use an “X” policy. Whenever your child is in an uncomfortable situation and wants an easy out, they can text an “X.” You can respond by texting back to say that something has come up and they must head home immediately, or you will pick them up.
Q: You smoke, so why shouldn’t I?
If you’ve tried to quit, respond by saying “You’re right, smoking is unhealthy and I’ve tried to quit and I wish I had never started. I don’t want you to start an unhealthy habit and struggle the way I have, trying to stop.”
Q: It’s legal, so why worry?
Vaping is not legal for anyone under 18 (and at 21 in some states). Many things are legal, but that doesn’t mean they are safe or harmless. Alcohol is an example of a legal substance, but can result in DUIs, car accidents and major health problems, including liver disease. Similarly, cigarettes are legal, but are highly addictive and proven to cause birth defects and cancer.
Q: I’m just doing it once in a while and nothing bad has happened.
Respond by asking what your child’s experience has been with vaping and pose a question like, “What keeps you from vaping more often?” This isn’t to suggest you condone or approve of vaping, but rather to get a sense of what the barriers are to your child’s use that you may be able to reinforce. These open-ended questions can help you understand what your child sees as the pros, and potentially the cons, of vaping.
To be effective a parent, you should be clear about expectations, listen, know the facts, in addition to reinforcing healthy behaviors that compete with vaping. A healthy parent child relationship is one of the most important roles in helping your child manage and avoid drug trends. This relationship develops resilience and fosters open, honest, dialogue helping children avoid the temptation to vape.