Health & Fitness

Need to have the vaping talk with your teenager? Here are some tips.

The risk of e-cigarettes for young people

This video from the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General advises parents to "Know the Risks," and highlights how e-cigarettes have the potential to cause lasting harm to the health of young users, especially their brain development.
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This video from the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General advises parents to "Know the Risks," and highlights how e-cigarettes have the potential to cause lasting harm to the health of young users, especially their brain development.

Vaping is a trend that’s swept through high schools across the nation for years. But, how do these devices affect Bellingham teens?

According to a survey by the Washington State Health Care Authority, “(The) use of vapor products in the past 30 days among 10th graders increased from 13 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2018.”

E-cigarettes are battery-operated metal or plastic tubes that have a cartridge filled with liquid containing nicotine, flavoring, solvents and other chemicals that are heated until the liquid turns into a vapor, which is then inhaled.

Meghan Lever is a prevention intervention specialist at Sehome High School. Every day she meets with students to help figure out why they’re vaping and eventually aims to turn those same kids into prevention advocates.

Where does the vaping trend come from?

“I hate to pick something to blame because there are a lot of factors, but I think social media had a huge influence. And I’ve had (kids) say just that, ‘Because it’s cool. It’s all over social media. I follow these people on Instagram (and) they do these cool vape tricks.’

“Part of the reason people don’t smoke cigarettes is because of the stigma. People don’t like to smell like cigarettes, they don’t like to be judged for smoking cigarettes, they don’t like to walk around with a pack of cigarettes, and have to dispose of a cigarette butt. And none of that takes place if you’re walking around with your Juul.”

What are the dangers associated with vaping?

“Physically, it’s going to take us a little bit longer to know. The biggest concern to me is how addicted they are to it already. There are students who are vaping during school hours because they think it’s cool and what everyone else is doing. But there are also students who genuinely feel like they cannot make it an entire day, (or even) an entire class period, without their nicotine fix, and that’s really sad.”

Is there an increased health risk for teens over adults?

“One of the things that comes up over and over again is that it’s just not bad enough. The consequences are just not bad enough not to do it. So, they’re enjoying it and I can’t sit down with 80 years worth of research and be like, ‘Well, how do you feel about lung cancer?’ And that’s enough for them.”

As a parent how do you talk to your kids about it?

“My suggestion is to always ask them what they know. And to be really open to the fact that they might know more than you. I’m also a huge fan of families being willing to take a break from a situation.”

What’s the next step in the conversation? How do you prevent them from starting?

“I guess the next piece in my mind is for the parent and the student to really be on the same page about what’s acceptable within our family. What are our values? What do we think is important? We know that the things that teenagers decide to do end up being heavily reflected back to what their family’s values are often. And so being really, really clear about what is right for your family, and what you believe in a way that acknowledges behaviors and is not judgmental of character.”

How do you talk to them once they’ve started vaping?

“I think it’s really important when your kid says that they’re doing something like that, not to go straight into, ‘Well you need to stop, this is how you’re going to do it, blah blah blah.’ But, ask why are they doing it? Because that ‘why?’ is going to tell you what to do next.”

Are there healthy alternatives?

“It’s kind of a trial and error thing for each individual. It goes back to that ‘why?’ If it’s about stress, OK, what do we do to address that stress? Either way, if they’re in a space where they’re addicted to it we have to address what are the next couple days going to look like without this?”

How has your job changed since vaping became popular?

“The majority of the discipline referrals that I get are for vaping. I don’t like to be considered part of the discipline process, but I guess I’m part of the tail end of it. I’m here to scoop them back up afterward and say, ‘How do we get moving with life, what do you need, what resources can I provide to your or find for you?’ “

What’s your message to parents?

“If your kid is doing something for this feeling of rebelling, (it’s) totally normal adolescent behavior to want that rush, to want to rebel, to want to push the limits.I think some people are like, ‘Ugh, my kid is just rebelling because they’re a teenager.’ And I’m like, ‘Cool, let’s let them rebel because that’s what their brain wants to do. But how do we do that in a way that teaches them how to do that in a healthy, fun, safe way?’ “

Do you see this trend continuing?

“It’s hard to tell because it felt like it came in with this big tidal wave, and now it’s hard to tell if the tidal wave is still coming or if we’re just sitting in it. I don’t think it’s decreased, (and) if our middle schools are telling us anything it’s that it probably is increasing, but who knows.”

Lacey Young is a visual journalist who interned at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center and Minnesota Public Radio. She’s a University of Montana graduate and life-long Washingtonian.
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