This article appears in May-June Family magazine.
Kids and their parents know smoking is unhealthy, but the conversation around e-cigarettes isn’t so black and white. If a child is vaping, what should parents know?
Statistics show e-cigarette use is on the rise. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that more than 1 in 4 high school students and about 1 in 14 middle school students in 2018 had used a tobacco product in the past 30 days. This considerable increase from 2017 was driven by an increase in e-cigarette use, which rose from 11.7 to 20.8 percent among high school students and from 3.3 to 4.9 percent among middle school students.
“It’s important to understand parents don’t have to allow a child to vape,” said Dr. David L. Atkinson, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and chairman of the Youth and Adolescent Committee of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. “You can set limits. Let them know you have the expectation that they will not vape. If a vape device is brought into the home it will result in the loss of privileges, the loss of phone or car for a certain amount of time or grounding.”
The consequences of losing privileges are less than the consequences of a lifetime of addition, said Atkinson, said who further advises that parents destroy the device the teen is vaping with. Additionally, “flush all of the nicotine that they have, and let their child know that will be [the parent’s] action in the future should it recur,” Atkinson said.
What’s different about e-cigs
Parents need to be vigilant and aware. Smoking has always been a risky behavior for teens, but e-cigarettes raise the stakes. Popular vape devices deliver higher amounts of nicotine to the brain, Atkinson said.
There’s also the question of what a child is vaping: nicotine, marijuana or just candy flavors.
“Parents often just think their child is vaping flavors, but there’s a high overlap of many kids using marijuana, too,” Atkinson said.
In the past, kids needed to get their hands on a cigarette and then sneak off to smoke. With today’s tiny vape devices kids “have easy access on demand,” Atkinson said. Kids can use e-cigarettes almost anywhere, including at school and home, avoiding discovery, he said.
Parents must familiarize themselves with what e-cigarettes look like.
“They are not easily recognizable. They are meant to be discreet,” Atkinson said. E-cigarettes, which work by heating up and vaporizing a liquid, look similar to USB flash drives and charging devices, Atkinson said.
“The ones that are popular with kids do not produce a big cloud of smoke or vapor,” making them even harder to spot, Atkinson said. If flavorings are used a parent might catch a whiff of a sweet scent, but often they cannot be smelled, Atkinson said.
The physical symptoms of substance use may be difficult to determine, but they include acting anxious, depressed or aggressive, Atkinson said. When teens don’t have access to e-cigarettes, such as during an airplane trip or a long car ride, they may become progressively more irritated, Atkinson said.
What may be easier to catch is a child’s social media feed.
“If they are developing an addiction they will be talking about it and it will show up on their social media feed,” Atkinson said.
One of Atkinson’s biggest concerns is the question of whether they smoke in the future. Are kids who vape are becoming pre-addicted to cigarettes? Additionally, long-term vaping effects on a child’s heart are unclear.