Smoke screen: Talking to your teen about the dangers of vaping

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that teen use of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery devices (known as vaping) has reached epidemic levels.

While these devices can look like ordinary pens or even a USB flash drive, they actually contain liquid ingredients that, when heated and inhaled, can be harmful to your teen’s health.

But one of the biggest risks that vaping poses to young people is more long-lasting: it might set them up to become addicted to nicotine and grow into adult smokers. That’s why it’s important to talk to your teen about the dangers of vaping before it becomes a habit that’s hard to break.

The risks of vaping

Nicotine addiction usually starts in adolescence. “It’s very clear from research that 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking at less than 18 years of age,” says Dr. Holger Link, pediatrician and pediatric pulmonologist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

During this time, “The teenage brain is still developing and the nerves are forming new connections,” Dr. Link explains, “and these connections can be affected by the nicotine itself.”

Using nicotine during adolescence may increase the risk of future drug-seeking behaviors, as well as changes in impulse control and mood. In addition, nicotine and the other chemicals in these devices can have negative effects on the lungs.

How to talk to your teen

If you’re concerned about your child, talk to their pediatrician or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.

Being confrontational, critical, or accusatory about vaping is not the best approach. Merely saying “Don’t do it” won’t be effective either. Teens should learn the facts about why vaping is dangerous to their health and understand your concerns.

“Ask your teen if they’ve heard about vaping, what they know about it, and if they’ve seen other kids doing it at school,” Dr. Link recommends.

It’s also important to be a good role model and not use tobacco products yourself.

Your health care provider can also talk to your teen about the health risks. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both offer tips for parents on how to have this essential conversation with your teen.

This article was written by Nina Silberstein and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2019 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.