By: Eric Levene, MD, Chester Pediatrics (White Plains, New York) & Kerry Fierstein, MD, Pediatric Health Associates (Plainview, New York)
E-cigarettes or “vapes” are replacing traditional cigarettes as the nicotine delivery system of choice for teenagers and parents need to understand the appeal and the risk vaping represents.
Though marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, recent studies show that the vape liquid is laced with dangerous chemicals that build up in a teen’s body. Teens who smoke e-cigarettes have higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals in their bodies than nonsmokers, as a team at the University of California, San Francisco, recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Unlike what might be expected, the fruity flavors seem to produce the highest chemical levels.
The latest CDC report on teen smoking shows 20 percent of high school students have used at least one tobacco product recently — mostly e-cigarettes. In 2016, 11 percent of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. Middle schoolers are getting into the act as well and vaping is a common occurrence in middle school bathrooms. Middle school use is rising.
Our teens are using different types of vape pens with the JUUL being the hottest thing. JUUL pods hold the fluid and contain about as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. The JUUL looks like a flash drive so teens can carry it around openly and most adults have no idea what it represents. The JUUL device is rechargeable and can plug into the USB port of a teen’s computer. The device is about $35-$50 and each pod is about $4 and comes in flavors such as tobacco, mint, and fruit.
So what is a parent supposed to do? We are already talking about the evils of cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It is time parents and schools start educating themselves about vaping. Studies show that parental opinions on drugs will affect teen behavior. Include a talk on vaping as your child prepares for middle school. Teach your high schooler about the chemicals in vape. Talk to your children about vaping, but first, do your homework!