The FDA has called the use of electronic cigarettes an "epidemic." According to the National Youth Tobacco Study, vaping impacted 2.1 million students in 2017. Last year that number rose to 3.6 million.
Although the sale of vaping supplies to minors is banned in the U.S., teens have no trouble purchasing them. The attractiveness of the flavors, like candy, ice cream or fruit, combined with the perception that they are safer than cigarettes, has resulted in a dramatic increase in teen use.
It is an epidemic. And it is not "safe."
The head of the FDA said, "The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we're seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end." The FDA has put pressure on e-cigarette makers to reduce underage use of their products. But their attempts to do so have not been effective.
'Safer' is not safe
A 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes, indicated that "e-cigarettes emit potentially toxic substances that are known to cause adverse health consequences such as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses."
"Safer is not the same as safe," says Brian King from the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "Nicotine is a prime ingredient and studies show nicotine is more addictive than heroin and cocaine. And there's a growing body of evidence that nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain." Plus, e-cigarettes can include such ingredients as propylene glycol, benzene, lead and chromium.
The dad influence
How do we deal with this challenge to the health of our children and the pressure they will encounter to dabble in danger?
Dad, be informed. Find out all you can about e-cigarettes. Two of the most common responses you will get from your teen are: "Why should I quit? I like it," and "It's no big deal, they're safer than cigarettes."
Dad, be prepared to respond. A good resource is the Surgeon General's website on the facts of e-cigarette use, which encourages parents to get the facts, know the risks, and take action.
Have a dialogue with your children, not a lecture. Choose the right time and right circumstance. Use an ad, article, or instance of a person vaping as a starting point. Talk about your concerns, ask questions about vaping at school.
Listen to your child. Be inquisitive not judgmental. Don't dictate a direction. Move toward a mutual solution.
Be patient. Don't expect an immediate change. Teens who vape get some pleasure, both from the act itself and the encouragement from friends. Try to think of this as an opportunity for education not control.
Dad, for goodness sake, be an example. If you're a smoker, it's a lot harder to talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking.
For more help on talking with your teen about e-cigarette use, see the government's tip sheet.