Did you know more than 5 million kids vape? It's such a problem the U.S. Surgeon General is calling youth vaping an epidemic. That's why it's important for parents to start a vaping conversation. Here's how.

By Maressa Brown
September 25, 2020
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Credit: Tom Eversley/EyeEm/Getty Images

Living through the coronavirus pandemic and attempting to keep up with their academics during a school year that looks nothing like ever before, tweens and teens today are facing unprecedented challenges galore. That's just one of the reasons the American Lung Association (ALA) is hoping to address one troubling way they might be looking to deal with their stress: vaping.

The organization notes that more than 5 million kids currently use e-cigarettes and nearly 8,000 kids start vaping every day, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to call youth vaping an epidemic. Yet, according to an internal study by the Ad Council and C+R Research, 65 percent parents believe their child is currently at low or no risk of vaping.

In turn, the ALA launched a new PSA campaign called "Get Your Head Out of the Cloud," aimed mainly at parents of 10- to 14-year-olds. The reason: Given that research published in the Journal of he American Medical Association found more than 10.5 percent of middle schoolers vaped in 2019, the ALA wants to empower parents of tweens and young teens to have conversations that can prevent their kids from picking up the habit.

"Having these conversations is always difficult," says Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., a national spokesperson from the ALA and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Many parents want to have these conversations with kids, but don't know where to start."

Here are expert-backed tips to make the most of this crucial discussion.

Arm Yourself With Relevant Info

Only 2 in 5 parents are confident that they can influence their child not to vape, according to new research conducted by the Ad Council and C+R Research. But there are ways to get the message across to kids. Dr. Galiasatos says parents don't have to be experts on e-cigarettes but should brush up on all the information they can to effectively discuss concerns.

That's where the ALA's free educational resources and guides, conversation starters, and facts about vaping—available on TalkAboutVaping.org—come in handy.

"There is a lot of inaccurate or incomplete information about vaping on the internet," warns Jamie Garfield, M.D., American Lung Association volunteer medical spokesperson and associate professor of clinical thoracic medicine and surgery at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. "For example, parents and kids may not know this, but one vape pod can contain as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes."

Parents can think about the facts that will best resonate with their child, be that information about toxins, explaining how addictive nicotine is and how it compromises adolescent brain development, or discussing how peer pressure might be playing into their curiosity, says Dr. Galiasatos.

Focus on Short- and Long-Term Health Risks

Dr. Galiasatos urges parents to zero in on two key points with kids. One: Lungs are intended for air, and inhaling anything other than that will pose a safety risk. Two: Toxins in e-cigarettes could cause asthma and bronchitis and worsen symptoms should you catch COVID-19 or any respiratory illness.

"Talk to them about immediate and long-term health risks," he suggests. "We don't know what these toxins will do to the lungs in 10, 20 years. And we may be seeing a whole new variety of new lung diseases we never expected." To that end, he advises parents to discourage their child from being Big Tobacco's "guinea pig."

And always be specific. Dr. Garfield says parents should give details about the dangers of vaping, which will be more effective than using a sweeping statement, such as, "Vaping is bad for your health."

At the same time, parents should steer clear of scare tactics and making dramatic claims—like equating vaping with illegal drugs—which could result in losing a child's attention. "This reduces your credibility and chances of connecting with them," says Dr. Garfield.

Be Mindful of Your Child's Stress

Kids might be reaching for an e-cigarette to manage stress and anxiety, points out Dr. Garfield. If that's the case, parents should ensure they have healthy outlets and resources for managing these feelings.

"Start by helping them identify what is causing the stress in their life," suggests Dr. Galiasatos. "This is really the beginning of the conversation, as it allows you to discuss what can be done about the issue, one step at a time. Sometimes simply understanding what is triggering the stress and having a plan in place to deal with the stressor can make all the difference."

If a kid's stress is an ongoing concern, they might need additional support from doctors and counselors, adds Dr. Galiasatos.

Strive to Be Empathic and Calm

"If you think your child might be vaping, it's natural to feel concerned, panicked, or even angry," acknowledges Dr. Garfield. "But hear their side of the story. If your child does express an interest in vaping, ask why from a non-judgmental place." She urges parents to put themselves in their child's shoes, as empathy can fuel strong, effective communication.

So too will staying calm. "Do your best to avoid judgment or frustration," says Dr. Garfield. "Kids are likely to pick up on that tone and react defensively, rather than actively listen to what you have to say. The more relaxed you can be, the better—it will help them feel at ease and prevent the conversation from seeming like a lecture."

Practice—Then, Keep the Convo Going

Before broaching the vaping talk with their child, parents should write down their thoughts or practice talking points with a partner or friend, urges Dr. Garfield. "Try to think through the questions you will receive, and how you'll answer," she says. "Prepare for the worst but hope for the best. And keep in mind that this shouldn’t be a one-time conversation. Be prepared to revisit this topic multiple times as your child is exposed to new pressures or social circles."

Be Positive

Ultimately, kids will respond best to consistent, positive approach. "Acknowledge your child's independence," suggests Dr. Garfield. "Your children make good decisions every day—thank them for their responsibility when it comes to abstaining from vaping."

For more information about the American Lung Association’s work to end youth vaping, visit Lung.org/end-youth-vaping

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