Teen vaping: How to protect your children

Teen vaping: How to protect your children

In recent weeks, not a day has gone by without vaping in the national news. With the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirming that six deaths may have been tied to e-cigarettes, the cause for concern is not only real—it’s critical.

Many states are pushing initiatives to ban flavored e-cigarettes and the federal government has proposed action as well. Unfortunately, legislative intervention can't completely erase the problem. Black market cartridges still exist and pose a devastating threat to those who use them. And, the “incognito” design of vaping devices has allowed teens to escape notice by parents and school officials.

“Some look like USB drives, and they are easy to conceal in pockets and backpacks. Teenagers think they can’t be discovered when they are using them, because they look so much like the devices we use in our regular, everyday lives,” says Dr. Michelle Bowden, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “In truth, these are very dangerous devices that a lot of adolescents have easy access to.”

To listen to an interview with Dr. Michelle Bowden, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, follow this link: https://radiomd.com/lebonheur/item/39095

Because the devices produce very little byproduct, and the flavored options don’t give off the typical nicotine aroma, it’s even easier for teens to use them inconspicuously.

Marketing Leads to Misunderstanding

E-cigarette companies have been successful in marketing flavored vaping products to teens—in the sense that many adolescents believe they’re simply smoking a “flavor.” A study from 2016 revealed that approximately 60% of adolescents didn’t know that what they were smoking contained nicotine.

“The products themselves are dangerous when they contain nicotine. The problem is, our kids don’t know they contain nicotine. And even when they don’t contain nicotine, the flavors are made out of chemicals used to make products like antifreeze. This is what is being inhaled by our adolescents,” warns Dr. Bowden.

Short-term smoking studies of these vaping products indicate increased cases of shortness of breath, cough, fever, and a type of pneumonia that’s connected specifically to byproducts related to the flavors.

Addiction: Grabbing Hold of the Adolescent Brain

Nicotine is an addictive substance, and because the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, introducing nicotine at an early age has more profound effects than it would in an adult. And while many teens believe that e-cigarettes contain minimal amounts of nicotine, the reality is quite the opposite—just one pod provides more than 200 puffs worth of nicotine.

“What we know is that the higher levels of nicotine are more likely to produce addiction in adolescents. It could potentially even lead to permanent brain alterations in the chemistry and in the structure of the way that that brain develops over time,” notes Dr. Bowden.

An additional danger is that the devices themselves have been known to explode, resulting in severe burns.

Parents & Pediatricians: Activists in Prevention

Per Dr. Bowden, one of the best preventative measures parents can take is to get ahead of the problem and start having conversations with their kids early on—especially with reports revealing up to five percent of middle-school aged kids have used e-cigarettes in the past.

“When you are going to a basketball game or riding down the street and you see somebody using an e-cigarette, it’s just as simple as ‘Tell me what you think about e-cigarettes.’ It’s a great conversation starter,” she advises. “It can provide a great opportunity to introduce education about the issue, and if parents need back-up or want to continue the conversation they can reach out to their child’s pediatrician. We just want to make sure that our adolescents are fully equipped to make the best decisions they can and know that they can talk to their parents and their pediatricians when they are faced with these kinds of decisions.”

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and CDC have resources that parents can use to broach the topic.

The AAP’s Stance

Along with the state and federal demands for more regulation, the AAP recently released a policy paper calling for a ban on sales of e-cigarettes to individuals under the age of 21. “I absolutely support the AAP policy and I’m hopeful that we will see movement in terms of policy towards regulating and restricting these types of devices in the future,” states Dr. Bowden.

Want to learn more about General Pediatrics at Le Bonheur?

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