Can we all agree that being a teenager these days is not any easy task? With the help of 21st century technology, kids now have every demand at their fingertips. Unfortunately, technology has begun to dictate how teenagers smoke. That’s right, smoking is still rampant among many teenagers across America, except most products are now delivered by an electronic system also known as e-cigarettes. You might have heard of this new and improved way to smoke – but how can you trust what information is real or not?
What are they?
E-cigarettes were originally created for adult smokers who wanted a device that would mimic cigarettes, but be less harmful. These devices range in size and structure, but most include a battery, heating element, location for e-liquid to be stored, and mouthpiece. Currently, many designs make these devices portable and easy to conceal. This can make it harder to detect when someone is vaping. E-liquid is the fluid that fills the e-cig and comes in many desirable flavors, such as “Birthday Cake” or “Watermelon Punch”. Some liquids can contain different levels of nicotine, which is the addictive chemical in traditional cigarettes.
Who uses e-cigarettes?
Since 2011, e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, especially among high school students. Students who use e-cigarettes are more likely to have had experiences with alcohol, marijuana, and smoking regular cigarettes. In fact, data show that smoking e-cigarettes lead to conventional cigarette smoking. Unfortunately, kids are just as confused as adults about the dangers of e-cigarettes. In a recent study, almost half of the kids surveyed agreed that smoking e-cigarettes is safer than conventional cigarettes.
What’s the big deal?
While it is generally accepted that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products (e.g., cigars, hookah), they are not harmless. There are health risks associated with e-cigarettes due to the chemicals present in the e-liquid and aerosol components, and the reportedly higher nicotine content. These factors can have long-term effects on brain development and heart and lung function. Scientists are still working to understand how harmful these chemicals truly are.
Where do I go from here?
To be honest, the subject of e-cigarettes is still heavily debated. Many people see them as a tool to help adults stop smoking conventional cigarettes. However, other research shows that once kids start smoking e-cigarettes, they’re more likely to begin smoking cigarettes. Scientists are still in the process of testing e-cigarettes for unknown dangers, but as of now we should recognize that inhaling any substance could have potential long-term effects. It’s important to educate yourself, and your kids, about the pros and cons so together you can make an informed decision.
How is the Center addressing e-cigarettes?
The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and the CATCH Global Foundation have created a new e-cigarette prevention program for middle and high school students. CATCH My Breath has online lessons and materials for students and their parents. This curriculum works to educate students on e-cigarettes, provides tools to resist peer pressure, and encourages participants to positively influence their friends not to use e-cigarettes. The program is still in the early stages of development, but their website has many resources about e-cigarettes.
Additionally, the Center’s colleagues at the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) on Youth and Young Adults are conducting research on e-cigarettes, including trends in purchasing behaviors and marketing tactics. Center faculty also contributed to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on young adult’s e-cigarette use. Collectively, the endeavors of CATCH My Breath and TCORS are continuing to advance knowledge and practice in regards to e-cigarette use among adolescents.
How do I talk about e-cigarettes with my kids?
It can be difficult to know how to start the conversation with your kids. Below are a few suggestions for parents as they begin the dialogue around e-cigarettes.
- Before you begin talking to your kids about e-cigarettes, make sure you’ve done your research.
- Find a good time to start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s physician or teacher for support.
- When you talk to your kids, try to be open to hearing their beliefs and perceptions around e-cigarettes. Take the time to answer their questions.
- Continue to share information with your kids regarding e-cigarettes. This allows the conversation, and any questions, to remain open.
It’s important to remember that talking to your kids is not the only step you should take. Unfortunately, many parents provide vape pens for their children. Refraining from purchasing e-cigarettes only reaffirms that you care about the health and safety of your children. For more tips and ideas on how to talk to your kids, check out the U.S. Surgeon General’s website.
Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living Graduate Assistant
Victoria is a graduate of Baylor university where she earned a BS in biology with a minor in art history. She is now a second-year Master of Public Health candidate at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, majoring in health promotion and behavioral sciences with a concentration in health disparities. She currently works as a Graduate Assistant for the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and is the Director of Communications for the Student Society for Global Health. When Victoria is not traveling (or planning her next vacation), she enjoys exploring Austin with her friends and family and serving at her church.