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Fighting e-cigarettes: 7 things every parent needs to know about vaping

The dangerous health effects of vaping have been making headlines. Experts from the Poe Center for Health Education share the seven things parents need to know.

Posted Updated

Susan Foster
Virginia Johnson, Poe Center for Health Education
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the Poe Center for Health Education's website. Susan Foster is assistant director of the center's substance use prevention programs. Virginia Johnson is substance use prevention director. The Poe Center is based in Raleigh.
The dangerous health effects of vaping have been making headlines. As prevention specialists, we want to answer some of the commonly asked questions we receive during our #YouthCulture and Drugs Uncovered parent education programs.

What exactly is a vape?

An e-cigarette or “vape” is a mechanical device designed to heat up a liquid. Once heated, the liquid turns into an aerosol that is then inhaled and exhaled. This is referred to as “vaping” because the cloud created by e-cigarettes when exhaled is often mistaken for water vapor. It is important to note that this cloud is not simply water vapor.

If the vaping clouds are not water vapor, what are they?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the e-cigarette aerosol not only includes the highly addictive substance nicotine that comes from tobacco, but also includes ultrafine particles of heavy metals such as tin, nickel and lead. The aerosol includes flavorants such as diacetyl and volatile organic compounds that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. These ingredients have been linked to cancer, serious respiratory issues, lung disease, heart disease and addiction. The ultrafine aerosol mist that users inhale and exhale exposes the user, bystanders, and the environment to these harmful materials.

How do youths start vaping? Is it addictive?

For adolescents, vaping is often a social experience where the e-cigarettes are passed around and shared. This a common way a young person is introduced to a vape product. The developing adolescent brain is more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine than the adult brain, so there is a greater likelihood of addiction for adolescents.

How often are youths vaping?

According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, about 37% of high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes within the preceding year and about 10 percent report daily use.

Are youths using vapes to get “high?” What are they “high” on?

Vape devices are a mechanism to heat up substance into aerosol form to be inhaled and quickly absorbed into the body. Vape devices and the liquids that are heated inside come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and ingredients. Most vapes contain nicotine, and some devices use nicotine salts with a very high concentration of nicotine and a very fast absorption rate. This creates a quick “high” and a very short time before the next craving which further increases the likelihood of addiction. In addition to nicotine, vape devices can also be used as a delivery mechanism for other substances such as THC, CBD, spice, flakka​​​​​​​, and even ketamine​​​​​​​. There is a real concern that youth may not know exactly what they are vaping or how it will affect their bodies.

What can I do? How do I talk to my child about this?

It is important for parents to be informed and to talk to their children. It is never too early to start talking to your child about the dangers of e-cigarettes. If your child is in elementary school, a prevention conversation should focus on what is safe for your body and what is not. During these early conversations, make sure to identify trusted adults your child can go to with more questions. These conversations are meant to be ongoing and increasingly informative. At the Poe Center, we begin talking about addiction and the effects of nicotine on the brain and body in our fourth grade programs.

To help prevent substance use at all ages, we must make sure that children have the skills to resist peer pressure, reduce stress and increase communication. A great way to do this is to model healthy stress-relieving techniques and to role play ways to say “no” to substances with your child. Check out our Refusal Skills handout for more tips. Be proactive and you will reinforce and strengthen the protective factors and reduce the risk factors in your child’s life.

What if my youth is already vaping?

Talking through the risks and dangers of vaping is a great start, but you may also need to discuss strategies for cessation.

For teens, there is online support available by texting DITCHJUUL to 890-07.

Check out QuitLineNC.com or 1-800-Quit-Now. QuitlineNC provides resources, tools, and tips for those on the path to quitting including free cessation services and coaching.

If you are concerned your child may be vaping, we recommend talking to your child’s pediatrician.

Parents can also contact the Tobacco Treatment Programs at the UNC Department of Family Medicine for additional support, including in-person counseling sessions.

Although we are still learning about the negative health impacts of vaping, please remember that vaping is dangerous. It is especially dangerous to youths since their developing brains are highly susceptible to addiction. There is a lot of misinformation online and in the news, so be sure to use trusted sources when researching vaping.

Above all else, don’t be afraid of having a conversation. Even though they may not act like it, children value their parents’ opinions and want to hear from you. Talk to your child about the consequences of vaping and help them build their skills to make healthy decisions. Need help? Download our Tobacco Resources for Parents and Other Concerned Adults for additional resources, including tips for conversation starters with your child. Be brave, start a conversation, and you will work towards a healthier lifestyle for your child.


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