Philip Veliz: Using shelter in place as an opportunity to talk to youth about vaping

May 26, 2020

E-cigaretes. Image credit: iStockANN ARBOR—Vaping among teens has skyrocketed in recent years, and a recent University of Michigan study suggests that up to 60% of kids in some school districts vaped within the past month.

Philip Veliz

Philip Veliz

Philip Veliz, study co-author and research assistant professor at the U-M School of Nursing, says shelter in place is an excellent, low-pressure opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of vaping.

How do I broach the topic of vaping with my child?

This is clearly not easy to do with kids, but just having a conversation on their thoughts about using e-products can go a long way to make them feel comfortable enough to ask more questions on the potential risks of using these devices. To be honest, I have had these conversations with my kids, who are 6 and 9, because they see people using them and ask why people smoke cigarettes or use vaping devices.

That’s the perfect time to talk about the risk of using tobacco––namely, the risks to your overall health and that these products can become an expensive habit. Long story short, there really is not a bad time to bring up these conversations with your kids because they should know the risks involved.

What if I know my child is vaping? How do I approach this in a nonjudgmental way?

That is an extremely difficult question, however, the conversation around tobacco use or any type of substance use should be an open topic for discussion. I would not force kids to discuss their behavior, but rather have it come out naturally through day-to-day conversation.

One way to approach these discussions, whether or not you know your child is vaping, is to focus on school-level activity––do other kids vape at school? Is it common among friends? Do teachers know? Does the school have a policy on vaping?

This approach is much less threatening than focusing on your individual child’s behavior. Our research group recently published a paper that examines vaping prevalence in 8th, 10th and 12th graders in a national sample of schools. The prevalence of vaping was alarmingly high in certain areas. Most kids that age have been exposed to vaping in some way.

What does my child need to know about vaping, and how do I accurately convey the risks?

Kids and teenagers should know that these products are just as harmful, if not more harmful, than using regular cigarettes. Nicotine is addictive, regardless how it is used (smoked, vaped, chewed), and has a negative impact on health. While kids and teenagers might see experimental or occasional use of these products as safe because they feel it does not influence their general well-being, it could lead to continued or habitual use that will have a long-term impact on health—what you do as a teenager might set the stage for future health compromising behaviors as an adult.

But what about “nicotine-free” products? Are these safer?

We are still learning about the impact of how vaping nicotine or nicotine-free e-liquids impact the health of the U.S. population. While they may seem like a healthy alternative to cigarette use, it is advisable to simply not use these products given the current state of knowledge on the potential negative impact these products may have on youth who are still physically and mentally developing.

I don’t want my child to smoke or vape, but isn’t vaping the lesser of two evils?

While the assumption is that vaping is a safer alternative, it really should not be viewed this way given that it puts teenagers at greater risk of cigarette and other types of tobacco use. More is being learned about the risks of using these products every day and it is not a good idea to assume that these are safer alternatives as it relates to teenagers. In particular, vaping devices are potentially exposing youth to nicotine.

Most adults use e-cigarettes to reduce nicotine intake and quit smoking. But it’s unlikely that adolescents are using e-cigarettes to quit a long-term addiction to cigarettes. Vaping is not the lesser of two evils at this age—it just is another potential pathway to nicotine addiction, not a way out.