E-cigarettes are a type of electronic nicotine delivery system. Their appearance can vary from resembling a conventional cigarette to a USB flash drive. Vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), and e-pipes are some of the many terms used to describe these devices. They use a nicotine liquid often called e-liquid or e-juice, which is often sweet or candy flavored, to deliver nicotine to the body. To vape is to inhale vapor created from a liquid heated up inside a device. The devices rely on batteries to power heating elements made of various materials that aerosolize the liquid. While they were developed as a means to help smokers quit, they have rapidly become the new means of nicotine addiction, especially among young people.
E-cigarettes are a source of extremely high doses of nicotine and ultrafine particles (aerosol) in the human lungs. These aerosols, which include things such as heavy metals, formaldehyde, cadmium, and other toxins, can cause irreversible damage. Nicotine is more addictive to the developing young brain compared to the developed adult brain. There is some evidence that nicotine even primes the brain for other addictions, such as alcohol and drugs. It is a misconception that overlooking or even allowing a young person to vape will prevent them from smoking regular cigarettes later. Kids who use e-cigs are actually four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes. A person’s brain is still developing until about 25 years old, so it is very alarming that young people vaping nicotine may be damaging their development without even realizing it.
E-cigarettes look like everyday objects, are easy to hide and don’t smell like cigarettes. There are accessories — like clothing, backpacks, and cases — that are designed to hide e-cigarettes. Vaping in any form is illegal under the age of 21.
It is not always easy for parents and kids to talk about these topics, but it’s never too early to start talking to kids about e-cigs in age-appropriate terms. All kids are at risk. When parents regularly check-in with their kids and talk about not using tobacco products, they are much less likely to do so. When you’re out and about with your kids and see an ad, for example, take the opportunity to talk about it. Ask your teen where they’re going, with who, and when they’ll be back. Be consistent with family rules and consequences. Practice what you would say or how you would respond to tobacco questions beforehand so you’re prepared. Directly say you don’t want them to use e-cigarettes and explain why with reasons that matter to them. Even if a parent is a tobacco user, they can still talk with their kids about why it’s not ok for kids to do and why, and about how difficult addiction can be. Even when kids are resisting a serious talk, they’re usually still listening, even if it is with eye rolls.
For more helpful and simple tips on how to talk with your child about making healthy choices, visit the Parent Resources and Parent Toolkit tabs on https://letsgo.catch.org/
Juli Simpson, RN, BSN, LSN, is the Maternal & Child Health, Program Director at the Meigs County Health Department.