A Parent's Guide to Vaping

Kids smoking electronic cigarette in a park away from parents' eyes.

Vaping is addictive and dangerous. But, how do you know if your child is doing it? Not to mention, how does it even work? Pulmonologist Sandeep Gupta, MD, UnityPoint Health, presents the parent’s guide to vaping. He’ll detail types of e-cigarettes, the long-term and short-term risks, tips to help you determine if your child is vaping and ways to talk to them about it.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are also commonly called e-cigs, vape pens, mods or tank systems. Each device is made of three parts: a cartridge containing liquid, an atomizer and a battery. The atomizer includes a heating device, which turns the e-cigarette liquid into vapor, which is then inhaled. The user activates the atomizer either by inhaling or by pressing a button, depending on the device. Similarly, there are e-pipes and e-cigars on the market.

“One type of e-cigarette parents need to be especially watchful for is known as a JUUL,” Dr. Gupta says. “It delivers a high dose of nicotine and closely resembles a pen or USB drive, so it’s easy to sneak past parents and teachers. It’s very common in the Midwest and among teenagers in school.”

E-Cigarette Facts and How to Know If Your Child Is Vaping

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigs are now the most commonly used tobacco products among youth. In the United States, youth are more likely than adults to use e-cigarettes. Dr. Gupta says it’s not surprising e-cigs are so popular, because there isn’t an age restriction to buy them, and they are easier to handle than regular cigarettes because you don’t have to light them. Dr. Gupta says many kids are tempted to use e-cigarettes because the e-liquid comes in all sorts of unique flavors.

“Even though e-cigs often have flavors, it can be hard to tell if your child is using one. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarette products don’t add any strong odors to clothing, especially if they are only used occasionally,” Dr. Gupta says.

He says there are a few signs parents can watch for in their children to help determine if they are using e-cigs. The devices can cause kids to be more active and energetic and might even keep them up at night. Some users might also experience a cough and complain of shortness of breath.

How Should I Talk to My Child About Vaping?

Dr. Gupta suggests the best thing is to confront the situation. However, he proposes talking about vaping instead of going the punishment route, especially if it’s the first time it’s being brought up. He says, it’s often helpful to start the conversation focusing on vaping health risks and the dangers of e-cigarettes.

“In the short term, e-cigarettes can cause seizures, brain injury from a lack of oxygen and even death. The vapor can be very irritating to your lungs and can even cause acute bronchitis, which is characterized by a cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. Using these products also means you’ll be ingesting not only nicotine but other toxic chemicals. These devices can also cause long-term bronchitis,” Dr. Gupta says.

Not to mention, it’s easy to become addicted to vaping. While it depends on the person, Dr. Gupta says someone can become addicted to nicotine from vaping in a matter of just a few days. He says vaping increases nicotine dependence and often leads to a transition to conventional cigarette smoking.

“Research is still underway to determine if e-cigarettes predispose you to cancer. Also, there’s no regulation on the ingredients used in the nicotine liquid, so there’s no way to say exactly what side effect these toxic chemicals could trigger in your child’s body,” Dr. Gupta says.

What About the Nicotine-Free Vaping Health Risks?

Some youth might think nicotine-free vaping is safe, but that’s not the case. Even e-cigarette products labeled as zero nicotine have the same harmful vaping health risks as products with nicotine, and the unregulated chemicals used in non-nicotine products may still have cancer-causing elements.

Some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have actually been found to contain nicotine, according to the CDC.

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