The Increase in Alternative Tobacco and Vaping in Teens
Cigarettes are Down, But…
Cigarette smoking is on the decline with teens. It had an uptick in the 90’s, according to government surveys, but eventually cigarettes went back down. At the moment, we are at an all-time low. Fantastic, right? Well, pure numbers may not quite capture the whole story.
While cigarettes are becoming extinct for teens, nicotine and tobacco use is not. In fact, the use of vapes, for both nicotine and marijuana use, is seeing a serious rise. Now more teens use e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes for the first time ever.
Access to Vaping Products is High
Though a law has been passed denying the sale of e-cigarettes to those under eighteen, it isn’t a difficult law to get around. Teenagers still manage to get vaping equipment, hookahs and other smokeless products from friends, older people and online. While websites put a disclaimer prohibiting the sales, teenagers can lie as long as they have a credit or debit card. Electronic payment accounts like PayPal or access to a digital currency like Bitcoin make these slight hurdles even easier to overcome.
Parents must be diligent to ensure their child is not using alternative tobacco or nicotine products. Even if the juice does not contain nicotine, it still normalizes a destructive behavior and introduces something to the body that shouldn’t be there.
Beyond The Addictive Habit
Smoking is associated with more than just health concerns later in life. Studies have found that teens who use tobacco products are more likely to face depression, anxiety disorders, and high levels of stress. This could be a primary reason behind the use of tobacco in the first place, leading many experts to consider the emotional implications behind tobacco use in teens.
Another serious issue is the addiction associated with smoking. As many as 90% of smokers started before the age of eighteen, leading to prolonged tobacco use. With the alternative of vaping, more adults who never smoked cigarettes are finding themselves addicted to the nicotine in flavored juices. It also affects teens who may have never chosen to smoke a cigarette, who are instead getting hooked on e-cigarettes without understanding the potential danger.
Tell Teens The Facts About Vaping
Vaping is not automatically a negative thing. Those who use it to eliminate their dependence on cigarettes or other smoke-related products can use it to be the intermediary step between using and quitting. E-cigarettes have been found to be less physically harmful than cigarettes, which have a higher number of carcinogens and cause damage by the smoke alone.
Unfortunately, many users of vapes are actually dual users and continue to smoke in addition to vaping. This negates any of the benefits of vaping as an alternative.That isn’t the only health risk of vaping.
First, they have nicotine, which makes them addictive in the same way as regular cigarettes. Second, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has found that nicotine has a marked impact on the brain development of young people.
Other issues are more generalized but no less problematic. The FDA does not currently approve any products from e-cigarette companies which means the various brands can be wildly different in ingredients, composition, effects, and may not be safe for consumption of any kind. Likewise, purchasing from other countries may lead to unsafe quality control. There have been several instances of vaping equipment exploding and causing burns.
We Just Don’t Know the Harms
The biggest takeaway from these facts is that little is known about the extent of damage that can be caused by vaping because studies are still relatively new. But we do have multiple facts that show why teenagers in particular should be avoiding them and yet the number of underage users is increasing. It is a valid cause for concern.
Starting the Conversation With Your Teen
Now that you know why it is important to encourage your teen to avoid tobacco alternatives, you need to know how to start the conversation and what to say. There is no right moment for the talk, so don’t worry about waiting for it to come up naturally. All you need is some time to speak one-on-one, or even with your teen and some of their friends, or a sibling.
Bring up the fact that you have noticed a lot of teens using vapes lately, or that you had read something about teens and hookahs/nicotine juice/etc. Ask them honestly if they have ever tried one and that you aren’t going to punish them if the answer is yes.
There is a good chance they have at least tried one at some point, or that they know someone who has. Even if they answer no to the question, keep talking. This is where you can talk to them about the health risks and addiction potential of these products.
Specify that your intention isn’t to scare them and you know there is some evidence to suggest that vaping is less harmful than regular cigarettes. But there is also a lot of evidence to show that there are some health risks involved, including with hookahs, which have become a popular party attraction in recent years.
Addressing Other Drug Use Your Teen May Encounter
As marijuana vape use continues to grow and other substances are abused by teens (particularly alcohol and prescription drugs), it is important to keep the conversation going and include other items that they may be pressured to try.
Drug and alcohol abuse is harmful to developing brains and can stunt growth. It can also lead to addiction later in life, prompting campaigns to cut off substance abuse in young people in the beginning, or before it ever starts.
Unfortunately, drug abstinence programs are not always effective. Studies have shown that knowing the facts about an issue does not necessarily change the choices that people make. Teenagers in particular can be prone to making risky decisions that lead to harm, thanks to the undeveloped portion of their brains that is in charge of risk assessment.
Parental Vigilance: The Ultimate Anti-Drug
In the end, the best tool in your toolkit is going to be your own parental vigilance. We can’t protect our children from everything or make decisions for them. But arming them with information, encouraging them to be open about their experiences and struggles and stepping in when necessary is a way to help minimize the negative actions our teenagers take over the course of the developing years.