Will Trend of Fewer Kids Vaping Reverse as Schools Reopen?Children's Health
An upside to the pandemic? Yes, it’s true, unbelievably enough. Here’s the good news: fewer kids are vaping or smoking e-cigarettes.
In 2020, 3.6 million U.S. youth reported using e-cigarettes, a drop from 5.4 million who used in 2019, reports the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC).
It’s a notable public health achievement, one worth feeling good about. Because the pandemic kept students at home more, kids couldn’t socialize as much, reducing their exposure to vaping and its social aspects. Also, parents and caregivers could keep closer tabs on kids, experts think. Higher age limits and flavor bans contributed to the drop, as well.
But as a preventable health risk, youth e-cigarette use remains an epidemic, says the CDC. And now experts worry about a spike in e-cigarette use among kids as schools consider reopening in-person learning.
“Peer pressure is a huge factor behind kids using e-cigarettes,” says Piedade Silva, MD, medical director, pediatric medicine, with Lee Physician Group.
“What’s also concerning is that their use may increase the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19. Kids often pass these devices around. Also, kids who vape are at a higher risk for developing worse symptoms if they contract COVID-19 than those who don’t and get the virus.”
According to the CDC, more than 5.6 million kids younger than 18 are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. This represents about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger who are alive today.
In addition to also causing pulmonary damage and possible lung disease, vaping also increases a user’s risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but also increasing the likelihood of developing severe symptoms and complications from the virus, including death.
What’s in an e-cigarette aerosol?
- E-cigarette aerosol is NOT harmless “water vapor”
- The e-cigarette aerosol that users breathe from the device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:
- Propylene glycol, used in antifreeze
- Isoprene, used in rubber products
- Toluene, a solvent used in paint and nail polish
- Formaldehyde, used to preserve dead bodies
- Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead
It’s difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can harm the developing brains of teens and young adults. According to the CDC, nicotine impairs the ability of young people’s brains to form synapses up until age 25.
And although they’ve been marketed as an aid to help you quit smoking, the FDA hasn’t approved e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. A recent study found that most people who intended to use e‑cigarettes to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes.
Dr. Piedade says the lungs aren’t designed to inhale nicotine, oil, or the hundreds of unknown chemicals found in e-cigarettes, and certainly not the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes.
“We’ve known for many decades that tobacco in cigarettes causes cancer, emphysema, and a host of other respiratory illnesses,” Dr. Piedade says. “The problem with the newer e-cigarettes is that we don’t know what specific illnesses they cause. With these hundreds of cases of severe respiratory problems causing teenagers and adults to be hospitalized, we can assume that they can have no positive health effects.”
Time for parents and kids to have a tough talk
Here’s some tips to get the conversation started with your kids.
- Listen more, talk less. Reserve judgment, accusations, and other behaviors that can shut conversations down. Listen, ask questions, and be supportive.
- Keep calm. Talking about vaping doesn’t mean your kids are doing it. Pause, breathe, and remain calm.
- Have the talk at a good time and place. Pick a time when they’re low-key and receptive, as opposed to, say, during a study time or while watching a movie. Consider during meal preparation, like dinner or lunch. Or maybe while driving in the car someplace and there’s leisure time.
- Keep the main points obvious. Avoid the filibuster conversation. Quick, frequent conversations are far more effective because they help reduce the pressure of a formal sit-down when your kids may check out.
- Aim for the teachable moment. Avoid slamming their friends who you know vape. Instead, make the conversation relevant. No ambushing them with the topic. You’ll get tuned out faster than a doorbell salesman.
- You don’t have all the answers, okay? Whether it’s about vaping or about how to combat peer pressure, you’re not the Oz working the levers behind the curtain. Let your kids know you’re all in this together. Make it clear that you support them and that together, you’ll figure it out.