To Your Health: How to have meaningful discussion with teens about vaping

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health
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One of the many advantages to living in this area is the amazing convenience of the airport in Avoca. It’s so nice to get off a plane, into your car and on the road in only minutes instead of walking for what seems like miles in most larger airports. They’ve just finished renovations to the security checkpoint and exit, and it’s even more convenient than before.

I was returning from a combined business and family visit on Sunday when, while waiting for the flight attendant to open the airplane door, I smelled an overpowering and sickeningly-sweet smell. It turns out that the guy in front of me had taken out his “vaping” gear and noticed that it had leaked all over his backpack.

Smoking cigarettes has fallen out of favor for teens and adults — it’s at an all-time low. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes, with their “fun” flavors, appetizing smells and tiny plumes of vapor, have become the cool trend that a record number of teens are trying.

Why? Inhaling a flavored vapor rather than cigarette smoke smells less offensive, seems safer and tastes good. In fact, a survey shows that 81 percent of teens who use e-cigarettes do so because of the flavors.

But e-cigarettes are especially harmful to teens’ developing brains. And new research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shows that teens who take up vaping may make the switch to more harmful cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and vapor pens, or “vapes,” are battery-operated, pen-shaped electronic pipes used to inhale heated “e-liquid” that often contains concentrated nicotine, flavored liquid such as diacetyl, cancer-causing chemicals and even heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead. They cut out tar but include substances that could cause lung disease.

Despite clear risks, the number of teenagers vaping has skyrocketed — from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015. Many view vaping as a viable substitute for tobacco.

So, how can you talk to your teens about vaping?

Cultivate a channel of honest communication

Broaching serious topics with teens without pushing them away is a veritable Olympic sport. But keeping them informed of the negative consequences of vaping can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Keep the dialogue going in a meaningful, productive manner.

Chances are your teen has questions they’re afraid to ask for fear of judgment, anger or the assumption that they’re already smoking. If they approach you with questions, answer frankly, without hostility or condescension.

Rather than forcing stilted conversation, use real-life events for “teachable moments.” Passing a vape shop or advertisement en route to school? See people vaping on TV or out on the street?

The talk doesn’t need to happen just once. Let it happen naturally, over time, as teachable moments come knocking.

Many teens will listen to everyone but their parents or guardians. Encourage yours to speak about vaping with other trusted adults in their community, including favorite teachers, coaches and counselors.

Educate yourself on vaping

Teens are more likely to take your words to heart — and ask questions — if they perceive you as genuinely knowledgeable. This means familiarizing yourself with basic vaping facts. Here are some you should know:

Your teen’s brain is still developing — in fact, it’ll keep developing until age 25. Exposure to nicotine can harm the brain’s development, cause addiction and create problems with memory and concentration.

E-cigarettes produce a bunch of other chemicals and particles that are harmful — they’re not just water and flavoring. And just like secondhand smoke, exhaled vapors are also harmful to breathe.

Lead by example

If you use tobacco, there’s never a better time to quit than now. Teens will better appreciate your advice when you practice what you preach.

Have you smoked in the past, or do you vape to wean yourself off tobacco? If so, start an honest conversation with your teen on your choices and how they’ve affected your health and lifestyle.

Show, don’t just tell, your teenager about how smoking has been anything but ‘cool’ for you.

And, if you must vape, please don’t let the thing leak in a closed airplane!

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By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]