What Every Parent Should Know About the Teen Vaping Epidemic

By Monica Kalra, DO

After decades of work by advocates to curtail youth smoking rates, children are once again getting hooked on nicotine, posing serious risks to their developing brains.

Vaping has become an epidemic among America’s teens, with one in every five high school students reporting electronic cigarette use in 2018. This is a staggering 78 percent increase from the year prior, an alarming statistic when considering the risks of e-cigarettes.

Surgeon General Issued Advisory Warning About Teen Vaping

Recently, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, issued an advisory warning about the dangers of electronic cigarette use among youth. It’s only the fourth such advisory in more than a decade, underscoring how harmful teen vaping has become.

What Kids Don’t Know About Vaping Can Hurt Them

Many kids wrongly assume that e-cigarettes are benign because they are odorless and come in appealing flavors like cotton candy and chocolate. In fact, a striking 20 percent of children believe e-cigarettes are harmless.

What teens don’t understand is some of these electronic devices contain a significant dose of nicotine, a highly addictive substance that affects a child’s ability to learn, impacts his or her memory and shortens the attention span. Moreover, e-cigarettes are considered a gateway drug, escalating the risk of developing future addiction to cigarettes,  drugs or both.

As the Surgeon General stated in his advisory, “Any e-cigarette use among young people is unsafe.”

FDA Announced New Regulations for Electronic Cigarettes

Work is underway at the policy level to change laws to protect our children from e-cigarettes, including newly announced regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to limit their sale to kids. But parents also have a key role in helping children steer clear of these addictive substances.

Parents’ Role in Stopping Teen Vaping

Parents should educate themselves about recognizing the various forms of vaping. E-cigarettes come in different shapes and sizes, with some as small as a USB drive that can easily be hidden in backpacks or concealed in pockets.

For parents discussing e-cigarettes with their children, honesty is the best policy. It’s important to speak to children in a calm, non-judgmental manner to help them understand the short and long-term risks of vaping. Parents should encourage questions from teens to facilitate an open discussion. If parents need assistance, physicians can also help by adding fact-based information to delineate the dangers of e-cigarettes. For tips on how to discuss the topic with your teen, visit the Surgeon General’s special website on e-cigarettes.

It’s also critical for parents to set a good example for their kids by quitting smoking and pledging to create tobacco-free environments. Children look to their parents as role models, and by quitting smoking, parents can help set the tone and reduce their family’s risk for heart disease, cancer and strokes.

It’s never too late to quit. Memorial Hermann offers a number of resources to help with smoking cessation, or you can visit smokefree.gov for assistance.

The teen vaping epidemic is reaching scary proportions, but by working together, we can help protect our young people and lay the foundation for them to lead healthy lives now and into the future.

Board certified in family medicine, Dr. Kalra practices at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Physicians at Sugar Creek, where she focuses on preventive care and evidence-based medicine. She treats patients ranging in age from newborns to seniors.

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