You caught your teen vaping. Now what?

April 19, 2019 Providence Health Team

More teens vape than use regular cigarettes.

Before talking with your teen about vaping, understand how it works and know the potential health risks.

Find out if there is an underlying issue for why your teen is vaping.

It used to be that parents would worry about finding a pack of cigarettes in their child's backpacks or dresser drawer. Nowadays, it's more likely to be a vaping device, also known as an e-cigarette. So what should you do if you find out your child has been vaping?

First, take a deep breath. You don't want anger or fear to get the best of you when you discuss vaping with your teen. A heated argument and swift punishment may shut down any valuable conversation you can have with your teen on the subject, and that can do more harm than good. You should also realize you're not alone—e-cigarette use is much more common among teens today than regular cigarettes. An FDA survey found that more than half of the 4.6 million youths who reported tobacco use were using e-cigarettes. That means there is a wealth of information you can access to help you, and that includes discussing the issue with your teen's doctor.

It's also important that you know what exactly vaping is so you can discuss the health risks with your teen. Vaping gets its name from the vapor produced by the battery-powered e-cigarette. This vapor is created from a liquid substance that includes nicotine, chemicals, and flavoring—usually something kid-friendly such as bubble gum or berry. When the e-cigarette heats up the liquid, the vapor forms and is inhaled. 

And that's where the problem lies. While the risk of health issues isn't as high with e-cigarettes as with traditional tobacco products, that doesn't mean your teen is in the clear. As vaping has grown in popularity, more studies are coming out that indicate potential health complications may include higher blood pressure, arterial damage and increased risk of oral health problems. But vaping is relatively new, which means there are still many questions about how the nicotine and chemicals affect teen brains and bodies in the short term and long term.

One thing that isn't questioned is that nicotine can be addictive. That can lead to cigarette use, and the health risks that come along with that. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that within six months of starting to vape, 30.7 percent of teens began smoking cigarettes.

You'll want to talk with your child about the health risks of vaping, especially because the odds are good that they don't know what's in their e-cigarette. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 66 percent of teens surveyed thought their vapor just contained flavoring, and only 13.2 percent thought it contained nicotine.   

In addition to talking with your teen about the potential health risks and making sure they are educated about what vaping really entails, it's also worth asking your teen about the experience. It could be, for instance, that they tried vaping and hated it. It's also important to ask why your teen needs to vape. If there is an underlying issue—peer pressure, stress, depression, boredom—for your teen's vaping, it is crucial to take the steps to address it. If you encourage your teen to stop vaping, tell him you will support him and help find a program to assist him in quitting, and help him find alternatives for vaping. An open and honest dialogue about vaping will help ensure your teen is willing to talk with you about other issues, too.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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