These days, it’s hard to go anywhere without encountering someone using a vaping device.
Often called “e-cigs,” “jules,” “vapes,” “vape pens,” or “ENDS” (electronic nicotine delivery systems), these battery-operated devices deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals in the form of an aerosol that users inhale.
While vaping devices may look harmless—some are even designed to look like everyday objects, including pens, USB drives, watches, and markers—the risk they pose is very real and especially dangerous for youth.
Danger in disguise
According to Dare Chammings, director of the Alliance for Community Transformations (ACT) in Bennington, “Vape products are very deceiving. Teens get drawn in by the cool factor of vape tech, and vape juice comes in flavors including cotton candy, cake, and fruit. But what we’ve found is that over 50 percent of teens don’t realize that e-cigarettes contain nicotine.”
Given this lack of understanding, Chammings says, “It’s important for parents and other caring adults to lean on local prevention programs, school counselors, and even online resources to educate themselves and, in turn, their teen.”
While vaping isn’t good at any age, it poses a particular risk for teens with developing brains. Research shows that when added to a developing brain, nicotine can reduce impulse control, contribute to mood disorders, and negatively affect attention, planning, and decision-making abilities. It also impacts the heart by increasing blood pressure and causing palpitations and sweating.
In addition, aerosol found in vape products contains potentially harmful chemicals. These include flavoring like diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds like benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead, all of which are drawn into the lungs when using a vape.
Not surprisingly, vape-related injuries are common. In some cases, users develop permanent scarring of tiny air sacs in the lungs—called “popcorn lung”—an irreversible condition that leads to frequent coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Talking to your teen about vaping
While conversations with teens often include eye rolling and sighing, the truth is they do listen to and care about what their parents think.
“The most important thing,” says Alice Abraham of the Collaborative, based in Londonderry and serving Bennington County, is to have the conversation. There are a lot of misperceptions out there about vaping. Talking to your kids is the best way to ensure they know the facts.”
Abraham suggests parents keep conversations casual. She says, “Seize everyday moments, like car rides to music lessons or sports practices. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully before responding. Ask what they think is in the vaping devices. A lot of teens are under the impression that vaping is an appetite suppressant and can boost their mood and energy levels. Neither is true.”
She encourages caring adults to share facts that might get kids to think twice about vaping. “Try pointing out that big tobacco is targeting them with flavors. Or, that many of the devices are high in poisonous metals that can harm their developing brains. You want them to appreciate that vaping does actual harm to their bodies and that harm may be permanent.”
Abraham also notes that talking about vaping is isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. “The devices and marketing keep evolving. When you see a window to naturally bring up the topic, you should seize it.”
The following organizations offer information and advice that can help parents navigate talking to teens about vaping and offer help for quitting.
Alliance for Community Transformations (ACT)
Deerfield Valley Community Partnership
Londonderry (covering Bennington County)
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition
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