Why is Everyone Talking about Vaping?
By Risa Turetsky, Pitkin County Public Health and Courtney Dunn, Prevention Specialist, Aspen School District
We want to talk about vaping, but first we want you to think about the young person in your life, whether it’s your child or another child or children in your life. Take a moment to reflect on what you want most for this young person. Maybe it’s health or happiness or reaching their dreams. Let’s start there. While concerns around vaping among youth are real, and we will speak to them here, keeping the bigger picture in mind is really helpful, and lays the foundation to be able to best support our kids as they learn to make important decisions for themselves, including but certainly not limited to vaping.
Now about vaping
Vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes containing nicotine (you can vape other substances, but for this article we are referring to nicotine vaping), has been all over the news recently so you may have heard about it. The U.S. FDA and Surgeon General’s offices have labeled teen vaping an “epidemic”, however the situation in Colorado is unique. Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at 2x the national average and ranking number one in the country. And, in the past few years in the Roaring Fork Valley, the percent of young people who report vaping recently (within the past month) has doubled.
So what, isn’t it just flavored water? (Answer: No!)
E-cigarettes are just what they sound like – electronic devices to get nicotine into your body. Like a traditional cigarette but with a battery and with a liquid containing nicotine instead of the tobacco leaves. Just about every e-cigarette product on the market has nicotine in it, even if the label does not clearly say it (there are national laws that will regulate this but haven’t gone into effect yet). Then there are a host of other chemicals that create the flavor, the “feel”, and the cloud.
Colorado has the highest rate of high school students who reported vaping on the 2017 Healthy Kids Survey among the 37 states that participated in the survey.
These chemicals are concerning in and of themselves – there are several known carcinogens and there are also several toxins that are approved for eating but not approved for inhalation, and experience shows they may be toxic when inhaled. CNN’s Juul and the Vape Debate video does a good job of explaining the potential harms of the e-cigarette contents.
However, the biggest concern is the nicotine. Juul, the e-cigarette product that has captured ~70% of the youth market and looks similar to a flash drive, has small interchangeable pods that contain the “vape juice” or liquid nicotine and flavoring. The pods have the same amount of nicotine as 1 pack of cigarettes (and take about 200 puffs to finish). Concerns about nicotine:
- Nicotine changes the way the brain develops, impacting long term learning and concentration. The teenage brain is developing until the age of 25. Early exposure to nicotine actually changes the construction of brain pathways.
- Nicotine impacts short term learning, focus, and memory. While kids might feel temporarily focused after a rip from their vape device, that high wears off in about 30 minutes and leaves them antsy and distracted.
- Nicotine is highly addictive to young people. Nicotine is one of the most highly addictive substances. Young people are particularly susceptible to addiction because of their brain development, and it can lead to greater propensity to addiction in general.
What can we do?
- Stay informed. You’ve taken the first step by reading this article. There are many more helpful resources, some of which are listed below. Keep reading, but most of all, ask the young people in your life what they know.
- Talk to your kids. Before you start the conversation with a young person about vaping, reflect on your personal point of view, your ability to be a role model, what you want the result of the conversation to be, and reflect on the context of the conversation – are you preventing a situation or responding to one?
During the conversation, use open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Affirm the young person by focusing on strengths and assets that they have. Use reflective listening by confirming what you are hearing; you can do this by repeating and rephrasing, and paraphrasing what you are hearing, and by acknowledging a feeling.
When talking to your young person, empathize with their feelings, avoid showing judgment, keep asking questions and check for understanding, celebrate their strengths, know when you need to walk away or reschedule the conversation, help them practice skills that reduce stress, and help them get involved with positive activities.
Remember to have ongoing conversations with your youth about vaping. This is not a one-time conversation, or a conversation only during times of discipline or stress.
Check out Speak Now Colorado for practical tips and more information about being a trusted adult for the young people in your life.
- Set clear rules and expectations. Whether you’re a parent, a coach, or anyone else who works closely with young people, you can help change the game. Setting clear rules and expectations not only gives young people boundaries, it makes your values and beliefs clear. Plus, it may give them a way to say “I’ll pass” when presented with a peer pressure situation.
- Reach out when you need support. There are lots of other people working on this too. Your best resource is in the schools – reach out to your child’s school and find out what resources are available. You can also check out the Colorado QuitLine – Kids can join the QuitLine from the age of 12 and even use on online-only platform.
- Support local and state policy efforts. Follow organizations like Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids to know what’s happening.
- More information on youth and e-cigarettes
- Videos for parents:
- For speaking with young people:
- Website for young people to get more information
- Cessation Support
- Colorado QuitLine
- Ask your school what resources they offer