A Conversation with 5 Teenage Students
The vaping conversation with the two teens I parent was so illuminating that I held a similar discussion with a group of teens I teach and who serve on our school’s student council. Three themes emerged that are helpful to parents and other caring adults:
- Confusion about vaping
- The specter of addiction
- The cool factor
Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Opinions are mine.
Confusion About Vaping
As an adult who is wholly disinterested in vaping myself, I am out-of-tune and thus, confused. And in talking with my students, I hear them saying that teens are also confused — especially the ones who vape.
Is vaping harmful or not? Is vaping addictive or not? Is vaping your choice or not? Here are the facts, according to
Vaping can be harmful. It’s not just water vapor. “Vape e-juice may contain nicotine, chemicals that cause cancer, and can lead to health problems including wheezing, coughing, sinus infections, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and asthma.1
Also: “It’s not just water vapor. It may contain toxins, potentially cancerous agents and dangerous chemicals like diacetyl, which is known to cause a potentially fatal lung disease called popcorn lung. It most often contains a combination of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings and nicotine.”3 4
And finally, “100 percent of JUULs – teens’ top choice for vaping devices – contain nicotine. And each JUUL pod contains the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes.”
Vaping can be highly addictive. “Young people who took up vaping were more than four times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes a year later, according to one study.2 And we know that smoking is both harmful and addictive.
Vaping can take away a teenager’s choice. It’s the nature of addiction that once a person is addicted, their choice in consumption is greatly reduced. Let Justin, Lucas, Josh, Penelope, and Ashlynn tell you about it.
The Specter of Addiction
People who get addicted to nicotine are just like “yeah I need to do this to get through the day.”Justin
I know for a lot of people, life long addiction can start when you are in middle school.Lucas
The longer you are doing something related to nicotine, the harder it’s going to be to break away from it.
I fear there are a lot of people who try vaping and get addicted to it and other substances, and that it is so sad because I’ve seen them become a shell of the human they used to be.Penelope
Vaping is not as known as bad because at public places where it says no smoking zone, they don’t really pay attention to vaping. People who vape don’t consider it smoking, and they don’t consider it unhealthy or addictive. My family was at a hotel pool and there were these guys vaping, and vaping still has a certain smell because nicotine still has a certain smell. But they didn’t think it was bad because they weren’t smoking and the hotel didn’t do anything about it because they weren’t smoking.Ashlynn
The Cool Factor
My students, some who had tried vaping and some who have decided not to, told me that a desire to stay in control of their lives and the risk of becoming addicted were reasons enough to keep them from using e-cigarettes. They also explained why some teens will try vaping in spite of the risk of addiction.
The payoff? Being cool. The consensus among my students is the title of this post: vape companies count on the cool factor to get kids addicted.
In other words, vaping companies count on social media to make teens complicit in their own addiction.
I could open Snapchat right now and see 50 stories of people doing vape tricks. That’s the marketability of it. It is a cool fun game to some people.Penelope
Some kids aren’t mentally mature enough to make decisions for themselves at this age. They are going to see other people doing it and they are going to go “oh, you got to be cool,” or “I’m gonna be cool if I do that.”Justin
I asked my students: does this sign discourage e-cigarette use? They agreed that such a message may deter some teens, but it also may encourage edginess for those susceptible to needing to feel and look cool.
What Message Deters You from Vaping?
I asked this question of students at my school. Overwhelmingly, they cited maintaining control of their minds and bodies as their reason for making a conscious decision not to vape.
Being addicted to something! Not having control over myself.
I don’t really want to be near it because of what it has done to people who are close to me.Justin
I would never do vaping if there was even just the slightest risk of addiction. I just wouldn’t because I like to have more self control. I don’t want to risk losing that I guess.Lucas
For me, it is also that addiction changes your personality. You will be doing something with friends and then something is telling you that you need to go take a vape, a JUUL. I don’t want to lose myself.Josh
Addiction is a big part but also it’s the harm vaping can cause to your body. It could be worse than cigarettes because cigarettes ruin your lungs and can give you the chance of lung cancer, but also can vaping because that stuff is not meant to go in your body.Ashlynn
Lucas had some final advice for parents: start talking with your kids early, like before or during the middle school years.
“I would really put a lot of effort into talking with younger people because I know from people in my life that lifelong addiction can start when you are in middle school.”
Resources for Parents Dealing with Teens Vaping
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has created a suite of materials to help parents and other caring adults understand the risks of vaping, and prepare them to have conversations with their teens about it. Visit TobaccoFreeCO.org/know-the-facts for these resources and more.
- What Should I Do If I Find Out My Child is Vaping?
- FAQs for Parents and Adults Who Work with Youth
- Tip Sheet: Talking to Youth
- Fact Sheet: Myths vs. Facts
- Fact Sheet: Vaping 101
- MY Teens (Tessa & Reed) on Vaping
- Vaping on the Rise on DenverParent.net
- Are You Informed about this Invisible Epidemic? on Imagination Soup
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.