What is vaping and is it dangerous? Parents can find the help they are looking for.

“Good thing I’m not in a hurry,” I muttered as I stopped at yet another red light. On my left, three teens – two girls and a guy – stepped off the curb into the intersection. Misty puffs of vapour obscured their faces momentarily before dissipating into the evening air. As they passed by my car the sweet scent of something like vanilla and grape drifted in through my open window. Seeing young people vaping is not unusual, but I couldn’t help but wonder how and why these kids got involved in it. Were their parents okay with it, or were they even aware of it? What help is available for parents regarding vaping?

Vaping is not on every parent’s radar. Some mums and dads feel that it’s not a serious concern compared to the many other complex issues teens face. Rather than assuming vaping is harmless, it’s wise to look for trustworthy information. When and why did vaping become popular? How does it affect physical health? Are there helpful ways for parents to talk about vaping with their son or daughter?

Where did vaping begin?

Vaping is relatively new to our culture. The first commercially successful electronic cigarette was produced in China in 2003 and introduced in the United States in 2006. They rapidly became popular worldwide due to marketing strategies directed toward teens. Small devices that are easily concealed and a huge variety of flavours appeal to teens that may be eager for new experiences and want to fit in with friends who are vaping. In Australia, around 14% of 12 to 17-year-olds have tried an e-cigarette, with around 32% of these students having used one in the past month.

The truth about vaping

Nicotine is highly addictive and is a substance that has been shown to disrupt a young person’s lung and brain development. Just one Juul cartridge can have as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

The vapour produced contains heavy metals such as lead and tiny particles that can get stuck in a person’s lungs. Studies have also detected a range of toxic chemicals linked to respiratory diseases and cancer. That’s not all. Vaping devices can be used to ingest marijuana or other dangerous substances.

From Friday 1 October 2021, all nicotine vaping products – including nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine – can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription. This includes both in Australia and from overseas.

The signs

Some parents might remember sneaking an occasional cigarette during high school. But tell-tale ashes, lingering smoke, and the putrid smell that remained in a car or on clothing made it impossible to keep it concealed for long.

Vaping is not as easy to detect. For one thing, there’s vapour but no smoke. The pleasant odours that result fade quickly and can easily be misidentified as air freshener or lollies. Certain types of vapes are almost odourless. To complicate matters, vaping devices can look like regular cigarettes, pens, and other common items. Juuls resemble a USB flash drive. Vaping devices may be referred to as e-cigs, mods, e-hookahs, tank systems, vape pens, and ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems).

If you suspect your teen is already vaping, parents can find help by looking at subtle signs. Vaping tends to dry the mouth, so your teen might drink more liquids than usual, have nosebleeds, clear his throat frequently, or develop a persistent cough. Look closely at unfamiliar items you find in your house. Vaping devices, particularly pens and juuls, usually have holes on each end.

Help for parents — How to respond to vaping

The best time to talk to kids about vaping is before they’re exposed to it. Prepare for the conversation by looking online for detailed information on the effects of vaping and pictures of the various types of devices. The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel discussing the issue.

Let your teen know you want to talk to him or her about vaping. When the time comes, begin by asking what he or she knows and thinks. Listen calmly, avoid interrupting, and let your teen talk as much as they want to. When the time seems right, calmly respond by sharing some of the helpful information you’ve learned about vaping and the harm it can cause.

Help for parents — Learn what they think about vaping

If you discover or your teen admits they’re vaping, avoid overreacting or harsh criticism. Instead, ask good questions to find out why they may have started. Let him or her know you want to understand where they are coming from.

Obviously, every teen is unique, and those caught up in vaping have their own reasons. Many just want to fit in with friends who vape. One teen shared that vaping can be like wearing a t-shirt that says, “Hey, I’m one of you.”

If this seems to be the case with your teen, let them know there’s nothing wrong with the universal desire to feel accepted by a group of friends. Consider sharing some of the smart ways or foolish ways you tried to fit in when you were younger. What are your teen’s thoughts on your past actions? Ask them what they think might be positive responses to being part of a group.

No matter what

Your children – regardless of age – are never out of God’s sight or beyond His reach. As you pray for them, talk to them about important issues, and express your unconditional love for them, you’ll be doing some of the best things any parent can ever do.

© 2019 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Edited and used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

Marie Kohlwaies

Marie writes for Focus on the Family and has been featured in Brio magazine. As part of her job, she regularly corresponds with teens and understands the pressures they face.

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