Vaping — the act of inhaling a vapor produced by a handheld device, such as an e-cigarette — has been popular in the United States for more than a decade. During that time, the popularity of vaping among teens has skyrocketed. Currently, more than 3.6 million middle- and high schoolers use e-cigarettes, a situation reaching “epidemic proportions,” according to the Federal Drug Administration.
In Ohio, rates are on the rise, too. A 2018 Prevention First Student Drug Use Survey found that approximately 1 in 7 students reported using e-cigarettes. Why are so many kids turning to e-cigarettes?
One of the reasons is targeted advertising and marketing strategies, says Teminijesu Ige, coordinator for Tobacco Free Living with the Cincinnati Health Department. According to Ige, these strategies include attractive packaging, using flavors and scents that are alluring to kids, and a strong social media presence. Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers promote heavily on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
E-cigarette manufacturers also drive the fiction that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to cigarettes, creating a more relaxed attitude about them.
“Many e-cigarette advertisements claim that they are safe, that they produce water vapor and not secondhand smoke, and that they can be smoked in public,” Ige says. This attitude promotes the idea that e-cigarettes are harmless, enticing young people to try them.
So, are e-cigarettesas addictive as cigarettes? Yes, says Ige. Scientific evidence suggests that e-cigarettes can lead to smoking other tobacco products. Ige calls this a “gateway phenomenon,” because it connects psychological addiction through social habit.
E-cigarettes can also contain substances that can cause lung disease or cancer. According to Dr. Megan Roberts with the College of Public Health at Ohio State University, inhaling means absorbing many harmful substances, which can include formaldehyde.
So, what can parents do? First, educate yourself about e-cigarettes. Then, talk to your kids about the addictive nature of vaping.
“Nicotine is the addictive component of cigarettes, and one Juul pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes,” Roberts says. “We often hear from young Juul users that they feel crummy when they don’t Juul for a while. Those are signs of withdrawal. That’s addiction.”
Most importantly, keep an open dialog with your kids. If your kids have tried e-cigarettes, let them tell you why they wanted to try them, because knowing why they did is key to helping them stop. Then, try to tackle the myths that surround vaping. Educate your kids about the long-term risks, so that they can tell the difference between what’s real and what the manufacturers are telling them.