You’ve probably been asked at almost every physician appointment in your adult life, “Do you smoke?” And if you have an adolescent in your home, you may have noticed that they are asked about smoking habits at well visits. As more and more kids turn to vaping, or “e-cigarette” use, providers are tasked to remind families that any type of nicotine use comes with serious risks.
E-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, pod systems, e-hookah, or vaping devices, are products that produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavored liquids and nicotine inhaled by the user. E-cigarettes can resemble traditional tobacco products, or look more like a common gadget such as a flash drive. They are often advertised as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, especially since using them indoor is less noticeable.
Since their emergence, vapes have become the most popular nicotine product among teens. Although it’s illegal to sell these products to anyone under 18 years old, they can be ordered online. The liquid solution comes in a number of appealing, candy-like flavors and they’re relatively affordable, especially compared to traditional tobacco products. Despite their popularity, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that there is no safe amount of vaping.
In any form, nicotine is highly addictive. “For the last year, young people have been dealing with unprecedented stressors of pandemic life, and nicotine’s calming “buzz” is attractive for short-term relief,” says Dr. Allgeier at All Star Pediatrics. “Those with weight concerns or body image struggles may also turn to nicotine use for its appetite-suppressing effect.”
Regardless of the reason for use, vaping is risky:
- Nicotine can harm brain development and studies show that teens who vape are more likely to use traditional cigarettes in the future.
- The liquid solution and vapor from e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals including carcinogens, which can cause cancer. The secondhand vapor is dangerous to small lungs just like secondhand smoke.
- Because vaping is a newer phenomenon, the long-term effects are still unknown. Additionally, COVID-19 is spread via oral and nasal secretions. There are no studies to conclusively show that the novel coronavirus may be transmitted by vaping, but the same respiratory droplets that spread the virus when an infected person is talking, sneezing, or coughing are also exhaled when smoking.
- There have been reported incidents of vape devices exploding or causing burns.
- Even a small amount of nicotine is extremely poisonous or fatal to children, and vaping cartridges contain a concentrated dose. If a child ingests nicotine in your presence, call Poison Control immediately. Even if they do not swallow it, the chemical can be absorbed through mucus membranes in the mouth just like nicotine gum, or absorbed through the skin like a nicotine patch.
If you or someone in your home, including an adolescent of any age, uses a vaping device, all One Pediatrics providers encourage you to have an honest conversation with your primary care physician about quitting. If you discover that your teen is vaping, your knee-jerk reaction may be to punish or guilt them. Try to express your concern calmly and follow through with a doctor appointment. Acknowledge their reasons for wanting to try/use nicotine in the first place, even if you don’t agree with them. Adults don’t generally respond well to shaming or anger, and neither do teens.
If you do have any type of nicotine product in your home, make sure it is not used indoors, in the car, or around children in general. All products and refills should be kept in a secure place away from curious hands. If accidental exposure occurs, do not wait to contact Poison Control because you’re worried about the consequences or “over-reacting.” Poison Control is a government-funded, highly knowledgeable resource that exists to help.
For more information, visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/tobacco/Pages/default.aspx