#parents | #teensvaping | Talking with kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes

by Diana Hembree

The tobacco industry promotes e-cigarettes as a way to kick

But for teens, e-cigarettes are a gateway drug to tobacco
addiction, according to the California Tobacco Control Program – and a
dangerous one at that.

Vaping – or inhaling the aerosol (“vapor”) from e-cigarettes
– is not the harmless cigarette substitute tobacco companies make it out to be.
Besides being addictive, vaping can lure teens to smoke, according to a leading
scientific panel
. The number of severe lung injuries connected with vaping
has soared to more than 2,200 cases, and health agencies have linked vaping
to 42 deaths around the country

Studies show that youth who use e-cigarettes – many of which
are candy-flavored to attract kids – are three times more likely to smoke
tradition cigarettes a year later, according to a study in the Tobacco Control

This is a particular concern for children and teens with
trauma from ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences such as abuse, neglect or
unstable housing.

Since brain development can be disrupted by chronic stress
and undermine kids’ ability to cope with negative emotions, kids with ACEs
often adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms, such
as smoking
and substance abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). One study found that each ACE a child
had increased
the odds of smoking by 20 to 30 percent

And vaping among teens is increasing, jumping 78 percent
from 2017 to 2018
among high school students and 48 percent among middle
school students. According to Successful Black Parenting, Black students are
the least likely to use or continue to use e-cigarettes, but the numbers are on
the rise.

“The tobacco industry is betting big on e-cigarettes to hook
its next generation of customers, working hard to mislead people that vaping
products, such as e-cigarettes, are harmless,” according to the state program
Tobacco Free California. “That is just not true.”

Hazards of

Among other things, chemicals found in e-cigarette’s liquid make it
harder for the heart to pump blood
, according to America Heart Association
research. And a study from Harvard showed that one of those chemicals –
diacetyl – is associated with an insidious respiratory disease called popcorn lung.

Some e-cigarette users have had seizures after a few puffs
or a day of vaping, according to an
alert by the Food and Drug Administration

There are even cases of e-cigarettes exploding, causing
extensive burns, broken teeth and at least two deaths.

What you can do

Despite these risks, e-cigarettes are still the most popular
form of tobacco in high school. Here are some tips for parents with teens:

Start with a few
, suggests New York Times writer Lisa Damour. “Setting judgment to
the side, ask, ‘What’s your take on e-cigarettes?’ or ‘Do you know kids who are
vaping?’ or something along those lines.” The answer, says Damour, will shape the
rest of your conversation.

Listen to what they
have to say
. Teens often think their parents are big spoilsports. Let them
know you can understand why they want to push the limits. As Damour says, “In
the end, we want our teenagers to weigh their options and be self-protective.
We can model this approach by saying, ‘Look, it’s not that I hate fun. It’s
that I love you.’”

Concede what’s known
and what isn’t
. Rather than get in an argument over whether e-cigarettes
are more hazardous than cigarettes, admit there are unknowns. But do let them
know about the
hazards that scientists are aware of

Focus on the
deceptive nature of e-cigarette advertising
. Research show that teens are
rarely put off smoking by learning about health risks or programs to resist
peer pressure. However, campaigns that target the untruthful nature of
cigarette advertising have proven effective. According to the California Health
Department, kids tend to bristle at the thought that they’re being manipulated
by adults.

Set limits. Some
parents take a more hands-off approach, realizing their power is limited and
telling their teen they hope he or she makes the right choice. However, the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you take a
further step: “Let your child know that you want them to stay away from all
tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they are not safe for them.”
So if you’d rather give your teens another reason not to start vaping, let them
know there will be consequences if they do.


Alcala, H. (2016, October 4. Adverse Childhood Experiences
and Use of Tobacco Products). Journal of Community Health.

Damour, L. (2018, January 23). How to Talk to Teenagers
About Vaping. New York Times.

Environmental Health Perspectives. “Flavoring Chemicals in
E-Cigarettes: Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin in a Sample of 51
Products, Including Fruit-, Candy-, and Cocktail-Flavored E-Cigarettes”.
Retrieved from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510185

Reuters Health News. (2019, April 3). USA Warns of Potential
Seizure Risk of Some Users of e-Cigarettes.

Thomas A Wills, Rebecca Knight, James D Sargent, Frederick X
Gibbons, Ian Pagano, Rebecca J Williams. Longitudinal study of e-cigarette use
and onset of cigarette smoking among high school students in Hawaii. Tobacco
Control Journal.

Tobacco Free California, California Tobacco Control Program.
E-Cigarettes. Retrieved from https://tobaccofreeca.com/topics/e-cigarettes/

Hembree is a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness. She is an
award-winning journalist who has worked at Time Inc., the Center for
Investigative Reporting and the Energy Bioscience Institute and has written or
edited for Forbes, HealthDay, the Washington Post, PBS Frontline, Vibe and many
other places. She can be reached at

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