There’s no getting around it: the news about vaping is scary. It’s everywhere. It’s highly addictive. An epidemic among teenagers. No one knows what’s in it. Each week it seems like what we know changes, and generally, changes for the worse.
E-cigarettes were initially marketed as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes for those who were already smoking. However, because the flavor pods e-cigarettes use were exempt from the Federal Drug Administration’s 2009 ban on flavored cigarettes, companies soon began marketing a number of flavors that appealed to youth, from Pineapple Crush to Unicorn Poop. In the early days of e-cigarettes, many adolescent users had no idea they were smoking nicotine, and often their parents didn’t fully understand the health impacts of vaping either – at Hallways, we encountered some parents who had actually purchased their children e-cigarettes and vape pods believing they were a safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarette use has flourished, and a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control taken this year found that 27.5% of high schoolers had used e-cigarettes in the past month.
And yet! It is critical that adults stay calm and centered. This starts with looking past the scary headlines and grounding ourselves in the knowledge that while the delivery system youth are using is new, the substances (nicotine and THC) are not. We actually know quite a lot about how to prevent adolescent substance use, and how to support those who are already using or find themselves increasingly dependent on the nicotine of THC they’re vaping.
In our high-achieving, high-pressure school communities, this means looking at the temporary relief from stress and anxiety that nicotine and THC can provide. The adolescents we work with tell us they feel an inordinate amount of pressure to be successful, and usually haven’t learned coping skills to deal with that pressure. They’re worried about disappointing the adults in their lives, and end up turning to risky behaviors like substance instead of to their parents, educators, or coaches for support.
So how can you best support your children or students when it comes to vaping?
- Take a close look at the messages that they are getting about achievement, perfection, and stress…and then zero in on the areas where you can help take some pressure off and remind youth of their inherent worth.
- Model healthy coping skills and talk with young people in your life about ways to utilize them in everyday situations. Think about and prioritize teaching the skills that kids need to make healthy choices.
- Answer questions about vaping but stick to the facts, as opposed to focusing on lectures or scare tactics. Despite our cultural misconception that understanding risks will deter substance use, what is more helpful for minimizing kids’ likelihood of using is cultivating a relationship in which your child feels like they can be open with you.
- Set clear boundaries about vaping and explain your rationale so your child or students understand and are clear on your expectations. If you choose to set consequences, be sure to follow through, while also offering support and healthy alternatives. reinforcing healthier choices.
If you’re a parent concerned that your child has already started using or has become dependent on nicotine or THC, be supportive and compassionate, and work with a medical professional like your pediatrician or an addiction psychiatrist to understand the severity of the issue and how to best address it.
And if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of e-cigarette use and prevention, partner with Hallways to bring a vaping prevention workshop to your school or parent community. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .