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Doctor’s Orders: Talk to Your Teens About Vaping

it's time to have the conversation

Dr. Lindy Upton McGee, a doctor with the Texas Pediatric Society, explains why now is the time to have the conversation with your teen about the dangers of vaping.

As a mother of two teenagers and as a pediatrician, I’m adding new topics to my “back-to-school” conversations with my kids and patients this year: Wear masks, social distance and do not ignore any symptoms of illness. In this conversation I also plan to stress how critically important it is not to vape or use e-cigarettes.

When in-person school ended abruptly last year we know that 27.5% of high school and 10.5% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. However, we don’t have any data to know what happened with e-cigarette use after that.

Public health experts are hopeful that time spent at home meant time spent away from e-cigarettes, but when school starts again the pressure to vape will be there. Now is the perfect time for parents to intervene to turn this tide.

There are several great resources to help parents have this talk with their teens.

The American Lung Association (ALA) has a handout called “The Vape Talk” to help educate parents and guide them through the conversation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has a good “Tip Sheet for Parents.” Both of these guides provide useful advice, including how to get the conversation started.

For example, consider approaching the conversation in a non-confrontational way. Congratulate your teen if they have not been vaping so far, but listen with understanding if they have.

Discuss why you are concerned about e-cigarettes, mention that almost all e-cigarette solutions contain nicotine—which is highly addictive in teens and has been tied to impulsivity and mood disorders, as well as long term effects on attention, learning and memory. There is no safe level of nicotine exposure for teens. Educate them that contents of e-cigarette solutions are known causes of lung disease, cardiovascular disease, immune suppression and cancer.

After you talk to your teen, continue the conversation by pointing out all of the ways the tobacco industry is spending millions to target young adults to addict a new generation to their product. Draw attention to social media advertising, flavors designed to appeal to kids, and paid endorsements. Encourage your kids to rebel against these attempts at manipulation.

Further, there is emerging evidence that e-cigarette users are at greater risk for COVID-19 diagnosis and symptoms. Teens who vape may put themselves at risk of severe COVID-19 disease due to known effects of vaping on the lungs, heart and immune system.

Vaping also produces an aerosol, which is a perfect way to spread the virus. Because of this, make sure you communicate to your teens that not only should they not vape, they should also avoid being around anyone who is vaping (in case those who are vaping have the virus).

E-cigarette use in adolescents is a public health catastrophe that cannot be ignored. One silver lining of this horrible pandemic may be that it has put the brakes on a crisis that was speeding out of control.

Let’s not lose the opportunity to reverse course and lead our teens to a healthier future.

Dr. Lindy Upton McGee is a member of Texas Pediatric Society, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Image courtesy of iStock.