By: Eric Levene, MD, Chester Pediatrics (White Plains, New York) & Kerry Fierstein, MD, Pediatric Health Associates (Plainview, New York)
E-cigarettes or “vapes” have replaced 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. Although e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, breathing in the second-hand vapor is not harmless. The aerosol from e-cigarettes may contain many potentially harmful chemicals, including lead and other heavy metals.
In 2018, about 37% of high school seniors admit to vaping within the last 12 months with about 42% admitting to vaping at some point. Middle schoolers are getting into the act as well and vaping is a common occurrence in middle school bathrooms. Middle school use is rising. An increasing number of middle and high school students said they can obtain a vaping device ‘fairly easily” or “very easily” with this percentage as high as about 80% for high school seniors. In 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams officially declared e-cigarette use among youth an “epidemic” during a Dec. 18 press conference.
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. Also, our teens are now vaping marijuana. This is quickly becoming an easy way to get high.
So what is a parent supposed to do? 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! Get involved. Nassau County is proposing a new law that would enact a new code regulating the advertisement of age-restricted vaping products within 1000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, and duly licensed day-care centers. Even if you live outside Nassau, contact your representatives, tell them we need to protect our kids.