While it’s seen as relatively harmless, especially when compared to smoking, vaping can endanger your teen’s physical and mental health. Yet, how do we convince our kids to break or avoid the habit? By Gillian Klawansky
Largely seen as a much healthier alternative to smoking, and far easier to conceal, vaping has become increasingly popular among our teenagers. Delivering nicotine via heating a liquid as opposed to through burning tobacco, it’s thought to pose a lower risk of smoking-related illnesses. Yet, vaping is far from harmless, warns Dr Anton Meyberg, a specialist physician and pulmonologist at the Linksfield Clinic in Johannesburg.
“The biggest thing we’re seeing in schools is vapes being hidden in the bathrooms because they’re odourless,” he says. In some cases, they’re even secretly inhaled in classrooms.
In light of the considerable risks it poses, Meyberg argues that vaping should be banned especially amongst teens. A JUUL, a commonly used e-cigarette brand, in fact, contains the equivalent of 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine per cartridge, increasing the risk of addiction particularly for teens whose brains are still developing. This may also give rise to learning impairments and mood disorders.
The physical risks are also considerable. “You’re taking aerosol, you’re getting a chemical that enters your lungs, unfiltered, therefore leaving chemical toxins behind,” he adds. “As you inhale it, it damages your lungs, attacks your blood vessels, and can cause heart damage.”
An added danger is that many young kids add THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the principal psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, to their vapes. “This is along with other ingredients including nicotine, nickel, lead, chromium, glycerol that are commonly added to these substances and flavours,” Meyberg says. “They are damaging the body, by harming the cells at a cellular level.”
An e-cigarette associated disease, e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI), has even arisen from vaping. “This can cause lung damage, pneumonia, chronic coughs and shortness of breath,” Meyberg explains. “We’ve had patients go on to ventilators because of it and also die because of it.”
Is your child vaping?
Many teens keep their vaping habit under wraps and it’s sometimes difficult to know if they are vaping. That’s why it’s important to know which signs to look out for. These include:
- Ongoing coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
- Sweet or fruity scents from flavoured vapes
- Mood changes or increased irritability
- Unusual objects like cartridges around the house
- Sleep changes
- Memory or learning problems
- Increased heart rate
Starting the conversation
If you suspect your teen may be vaping, understanding such behaviour is the first step to starting an effective conversation around the dangers it poses. “The reality with vaping, as with other misbehaviours, is that such habits are a normal part of development for teenagers,” says Johannesburg-based educational psychologist, Zaheera Seedat.
This has a lot to do with the heightened importance they place on the influence of their friends, she explains. “When children enter their teenage years, they start prioritising peer relationships and as a result we may see increased peer pressure amongst them which can lead to engaging in risky behaviours whether that be smoking, vaping, experimenting with drugs and sex, and so on.”
While your teen may not often open up to you around such activities, establishing healthy communication habits early on can help. This starts with engaging with your teens rather than lecturing them, Seedat says. Let them know that your door is always open. “Develop a relationship by engaging in their interests, understanding their thoughts and perspectives and going into their world. In this way you can calmly let them know your thoughts and hopefully provoke new and different thoughts in them.”
While these teen years can be frightening for parents, all you can do is teach and talk to your children about consequences of vaping through having open and honest conversations, she continues. “Normalising their interest in wanting to try vaping can help with preventing a taboo around it and help their feelings and curiosity to be acknowledged.”
How you handle an actual incident of vaping is also key. “If a child does engage in vaping, you can still impose consequences based on established rules but showing understanding and not becoming reactive and explosive is important.”
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