Talking With Your Teen about Electronic Cigarettes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tara Leonard   


Chocolate, caramel cream, cinnamon apple… Flavors you’d find in a candy store, right? These are also just a few of the thousands of candy and fruit flavors now available in electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, the latest tobacco trend that poses a significant health hazard to youth.

According to a 2016 Report of the U.S. Surgeon General, e-cigarette use has grown “an astounding 900% among high school students from 2011 to 2015” making them the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States. Data released in March by the California Department of Public Health shows that in Santa Cruz County the availability of e-cigarettes in local stores increased by 67% from 2013 to 2016.

Luckily, there are things parents can do to keep their kids from falling prey to this latest tobacco threat. Talking with your child is the first step.

What are E-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that teens also refer to as e-cigs, vapes, mods or hookah pens. A liquid, called e-juice, is heated in the device to form an aerosol which users inhale. Some e-cigs are designed for one-time use while others can be recharged and refilled. E-juice comes in a rainbow of kid-friendly flavors that usually contain nicotine. (Just type “e-cig flavors” into a search engine to see an astonishing menu of flavors from waffles and cinnamon toast to gummy bear.)

Why Parents Should be Concerned

There are many concerns about e-cigarettes and youth according to Gina Cole, Chair of the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition (TEC). The TEC is a non-profit partnership of people and organizations committed to promoting a tobacco-free lifestyle and environment. “Most e-cigs contain nicotine, which can cause addiction and harm the developing brain,” Cole explained. “However, the sweet flavors attract youth and mask the harsh flavor of the nicotine. This keeps kids vaping until they become hooked.”

The tobacco industry claims that e-cigs help people to quit smoking. However, the FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as a quit device and there are safer and more effective quit methods available. In fact, the latest research from the University of California, San Francisco shows that vaping actually lowers the odds of successfully quitting. Meanwhile, e-cigs are creating a whole new generation of smokers.

“Research confirms that teens who use e-cigs are more likely than their non-using peers to smoke traditional cigarettes one year later,” said Andrea Solano, Senior Health Educator at Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA) and staff to the TEC. “It’s a starter product for a life-long addiction.”

Beyond Nicotine

Most e-cigs contain nicotine, but even those that don’t are not “harmless water vapor” as many teens believe. They contain a toxic stew of unregulated flavoring agents and organic compounds that can be harmful when heated and inhaled to the lungs. The bottom line is users have no idea what they’re inhaling or how it might affect their long-term health.

There are other risks as well. Some youth use e-cigarettes to smoke marijuana oil or “hash” – which is called “dabbing”. Refill containers of e-liquid aren’t always childproof so children and pets can become seriously ill if they drink the fluid or absorb it through the skin. The lithium batteries in e-cigs can overheat and explode, causing serious harm to the mouth and face. (For more detailed information on these risks, go to https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/.)

“Ask yourself – and your child -- if it makes sense for a deadly, addictive product that is supposed to be for adults to smell like candy,” said Cole. “In Santa Cruz County, we’re working to reduce youth access to e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products through Tobacco Retail Licenses and ordinances which establish distance requirements from schools and other youth-serving organizations. But parents play a critical role in educating their children.”

How to Talk with Your Kids about E-cigarettes

The following suggestions are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tip Sheet for Parents on Talking with Your Teen About E-cigarettes. Detailed tip sheets in both English and Spanish are available at https://ecigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/takeaction.html.

·      Before your talk, review the facts about e-cigarettes and young people in this article or on the CDC website.

·      Find a natural time to bring it up, for instance when you see someone using an e-cigarette or pass by an e-cigarette store.

·      Ask your child what he or she already knows about e-cigarettes. You may be surprised!

·      Counter any misinformation with the facts. If you don’t know how to answer a question, offer to research it together.

·      Acknowledge the peer pressure that your teen may face to use e-cigs, but stress that most teenagers don’t use them.

·      If your child admits to trying e-cigarettes, don’t get angry. Thank them for their honesty and express your hope that they won’t continue. Tell them you are concerned about their health and safety. If they don’t seem convinced, offer to have their healthcare provider talk to them about the risks.

·      If you use tobacco yourself, describe how it feels to be addicted. Explain that you don’t want your child to go through the same experience. Stress that it’s easier to not start smoking at all.

·      Keep the conversation going. Look for opportunities to repeat key messages and recommend resources.

·      Some parents find that texting is a great way to catch their teens’ attention with reminders about e-cigs or links to more information.

Learn More

If you’d like to get involved in tobacco-related issues in our community, consider joining the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition (TEC). To learn more, visit the TEC website at www.santacruzhealth.org/tobacco or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sctobaccoeducation. 

Tara Leonard, MPH, is a Health Educator with the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency and staff to the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition.

Last Updated on Monday, 31 July 2017 23:46
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