When e-cigarettes were first sold, many claimed users would be smokers who wanted to stop smoking regular cigarettes.
But youth oriented marketing, sweet flavors that appeal to kids and the availability of products that are easy to hide has led to an epidemic of use among children who have never tried regular cigarettes.
Up to 25% of high school students say they have vaped within the last 30 days and 10% of middle school students also admit they vape. That is a total of over 5.3 million children.
That’s a problem because most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which damages young, developing brains.
And the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes has the same harmful toxins found in glue and paint, even if the liquid is labeled as nicotine-free. Researchers are still trying to find out if the toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes have long-term health effects. There have been no long-term studies on the health effects of these chemicals when they are inhaled.
If you suspect your child is vaping, it’s essential you talk to them about quitting.
Is my child using e-cigarettes?
It can be hard to tell if your child is vaping. The e-cigarette aerosol may have a mild sweet smell, but they won’t cause the tell-tale smoke smell on clothes, hair or in the air like regular cigarettes. Also, e-cigarettes like JUUL are often small and easy to conceal.
Maher Karam-Hage, M.D., Medical Director of MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program, says the first thing to do is find out what your child knows about e-cigarettes.
“You don’t want to come in and blast them with information because they may know more than you,” he says. “Ask them if they see people vaping at school or what their friends are saying about e-cigarettes. Explore and see where the conversation goes.”
You also can look at your child’s behavior.
“Kids who vape talk about feeling irritable,” he says. “They may start to have a short fuse and lose their temper easily.”
Irritability can be a sign that your teen is using nicotine because it’s a stimulant like caffeine.
“Nicotine puts them on hyper drive,” says Karam-Hage.
Withdrawal from nicotine also can cause irritability.
How can I help my child quit vaping?
If your child tells you they are using e-cigarettes or it becomes clear to you they are, approach the issue gently.
“Try to find out where they are with it,” says Karam-Hage. “Are they playing with it because they like the flavors or do they use regularly? Do they know e-cigarettes contain nicotine and flavors, which are both harmful?”
You can explain that it may become difficult for them to quit vaping because nicotine is addictive. It also causes damage to the parts of their brain that regulate mood and attention, and that could have lasting effects.
If they use e-cigarettes, they also may start to feel more anxious or depressed, or have problems concentrating.
Finally, ask your teen if they have tried to quit. If they find they cannot stop, there are support services available that connect with teens through text messaging.
Here are some organizations that specialize in helping children quit vaping:
Aren’t e-cigarettes illegal for teens?
There are a number of laws that may help protect young people from e-cigarettes.
Tobacco 21. It is now illegal to sell tobacco products to people under 21 in the United States. That includes regular cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes.
That means that retailers should check buyers’ ID and refuse to sell vaping products to anyone who is under age 21. It also applies to online sales.
Partial flavor ban. All pod based e-cigarettes with flavors are banned. Only tobacco flavor and menthol flavor are exempt. But disposable e-cigarettes are not included and these one-time use products are becoming more popular. They are also cheap, so they appeal to young users.
FDA pre-approval. Finally, by May 2020 all manufacturers of any tobacco product that want to remain on the market must submit an application to be pre-approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers now must prove that their product will not be used by children.
Even with these laws in place, underage users will be able to find a way to access e-cigarettes and other vaping products, so it’s important to stay connected to your teen.
“Try to talk with your children before they try vaping, or before they become addicted,” says Karam-Hage. “The longer they use nicotine, the more difficult it will be for them to quit.”