One of the great challenges of parenting is to educate your children about health and lifestyle choices. Like everyone else, children don’t want lectures, they want practical and realistic advice and guidance and accurate and pragmatic facts. Like it or not, they’re also going to ultimately make their own decisions, particularly as they hit the high school and then college years.
My family is healthier than most in our lifestyle choices and eating habits, but with a daughter in high school, I constantly wonder about what she’s thinking and experiences with her friends and their families. The topic of interest this time was e-cigarettes and vaping, an absolute epidemic at high schools.
In partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, I sat down with my daughter and interviewed her about high school, vaping, smoking and e-cigarettes. Here’s how that conversation went…
Recent research indicates that about 27% of high school students say that they’re using e-cigarettes or vaping. What’s your best guess at your high school? What percentage?
Probably a lot. I don’t really know because I don’t see everybody at the school. I see a lot of people that I know who do it, and there are people who have gotten kicked out in my classes because they went to the bathroom to vape or smoke. But I don’t really know out of the whole high school, because there are a ton of kids.
Do you think that older kids vape more than younger kids?
I don’t really know. I mean again I don’t really know a lot of people that are that much older at my school. So I know that a lot of kids in my class do it, and a lot of them are just guys which isn’t … I mean there’s a lot of girls that I know also that do it, but it just seems like there’s more guys that do it?
Do you think athletes do it more or less?
Probably a little less. I mean a lot of the people that I know that do it are athletes, but and they would get kicked off of teams if they’re caught vaping, then they’re off the team. I also think that in general most athletes that are serious about being an athlete don’t do that sort of thing. It’s stupid.
Why would you imagine that your mom and I wouldn’t want you to use e-cigarettes or vape?
They’re harmful to your health, they’re toxic, they can like affect your brain development, and they’re just bad overall!
Do you know what secondhand smoke is?
Secondhand smoke is like if I was smoking a cigarette, and you had to breathe my air, then that would be secondhand smoke. So did you know that secondhand vaping smoke is also harmful?
Hmmm, I didn’t know that.
Do you know what nicotine is?
Yeah. That’s what’s in all these vapes and e-cigarettes.
Right. Do you know why nicotine is bad for kids?
Yeah, it’s super addictive and it messes up with people’s ability to learn and concentrate.
I was even having a conversation last night on Facebook with a guy who was saying that, “Oh vaping and e-cigarettes are way safer than conventional cigarettes.” Do you think that’s true?
No. They both have nicotine. And they’re both just as addictive, and bad for you.
Correct! Do you think that any of your current friends have tried vaping? If you asked them, do you think they’d just say, “What’s the big deal? It’s nothing.”
None of my really close friends do it. I don’t like to be in that sort of crowd, but people that I am around I know do it. I’ve talked to them about it and they all know that it’s bad, and I ask them “Then why do you do that? That’s so bad for you.”
They just say “I know it’s bad, but I like it” I don’t really know exactly what they say, but they say that they don’t think that it’s bad for them. I think that they actually do know that it IS bad.
Do you know what a Juul is? Have you ever seen any of your fellow high school kids with Juul devices?
Yeah, I’ve seen them at football games. But they’re just so tiny, I mean I don’t actually see the physical thing, I just see people put it up to their mouth, and then smoke.
Do you think vaping increases the risk a teen will smoke regular cigarettes?
Yeah it does by quite a bit actually. Which is partly because you end up being addicted to the nicotine. Speaking of which, how long do you think it takes to be addicted to actual cigarettes if you were to start smoking?
Not very long. Probably just a few days.
Exactly right. Nicotine is super addictive. Heck, did you know that a typical Juulpod – which is what they put in these Juul devices – contain up to 40 milligrams of nicotine, the equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes?
Yeah I’ve heard of that. This girl that I knew went to Home Depot and was hanging out there and said she smoked three Juulpods.
Did you know that besides nicotine, e-cigarettes and vaping can also include ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into your lungs, flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious heart and lung disease, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead?
I knew a couple of those, but didn’t know all of them.
Finally, if I was one of your pals, and I said to you, “Well my older brother or older sister got me a vape system, and I’m eager to give it a shot, do you want to come over and try it?” What would you say?
No. I wouldn’t even have to worry about that because I’d know them. I hang out with people that don’t do that sort of thing for that same reason. And also I’m good at saying no. And I would just say no and find new friends.
I really appreciate my daughter’s candor and feel satisfaction that somehow we seem to have done well in the parenting department based on her responses and the choices she’s making. I encourage you to sit down with your high school son or daughter and have a similar – judgement free – conversation to learn more about their experience, knowledge and the choices they’re making in this area. And remember, parenting is sometimes about actually saying “no” and that you do not approve, not always just being warm, loving and supportive. I know, I know, that’s my judgement about modern parenting. Let’s just agree that it’s a balance. But isn’t your children’s long-term health, wellness and success worth a few glares and some hostility in the short term?
There are also lots of great resources for parents and adults who want to learn more about youth vaping and how to talk to kids about it. Here are a few:
• TobaccoFreeCO.org: Know the Facts
• Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Results [Infographic]
• Expert Opinion on Vaping [Video] with Dr. Tista Ghosh, M.D., MPH, Colorado Department of Public Health
• What do I do if I find out my child is vaping?