A text came in as I was leaving work: “I’m worried about Caleb*. He was caught vaping by a teacher and was suspended. If that wasn’t bad enough, his grades have been slipping and now he can’t play in the next basketball game because he’s below a 2.0. I need some resources, having a hard time finding anything. Do you know who I can call?”
I took a deep breath and thought, again; Wow. What is going on here? High school students can’t stop vaping, and it’s getting bad.
That was six months ago. Fast forward, and I’ve gotten four to six times as many of those inquiries: My teen is vaping, I don’t know why, how to talk to him/her/them about it, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?
I applaud the media for quickly reporting on the serious and scary health hazards associated with vaping (which is the inhalation of nicotine or marijuana in liquid from an e-cigarette) and working to inform the public about the alarming trends associated with the use of e-cigarettes by adolescents. Despite some solid journalism, teens have become vulnerable to trying, and sticking with vaping. E-cigarettes came on the market over ten years ago and back then were advertised as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. But use of e-cigarettes far exceeds the need for smoking cessation. A quick Google search for “e-cigarette companies” yields over forty-two million results; “vaping companies”, comes in at just over three million.
From my corner of the globe, families have been bowled over by the firestorm effect on mood, productivity, and daily functioning vaping is having on adolescents.
The top three risk issues associated with vaping:
- Health and human services professionals are reporting a serious and potentially deadly lung disease associated with the use of vaping products, and as they are working to identify which vaping products users may be most at risk with, they encourage people to stop vaping until they have more evidence and causation.
- It is widely reported that one JUUL pod contains approximately the amount of nicotine found in one pack of cigarettes. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that has numerous health hazards to its users.
- Engaging in addiction as a coping skill, while a universal practice found in many forms, makes it harder to develop emotional awareness and intelligence. https://childmind.org/article/teen-vaping-what-you-need-to-know/
Why are high functioning, happy teens turning to vaping?
Vaping juice and e-cigarettes have, until recently, been very easy for minors to obtain. Manufacturers of vaping products quickly realized that novel and colorful packaging combined with fruity flavors made vaping irresistible to experiment with.
- It only took one afternoon for Caleb*, who was vaping nicotine, to realize how excited he was about feeling so relaxed but focused for the first time in months. AP classes, basketball, volunteering for the local recreational basketball league, and a love life suddenly had his mind spinning with anxiety. He thought with the small profile and secrecy the vaping pen he was using provided, plus the relative lack of smell would allow him to “take a few puffs” whenever he felt the need and he would be able to keep up with everything. More quickly than he realized though, the positive feelings were replaced with increased jitteriness, craving, and constant thoughts about the next time he could “cloud chase”. Even though it had been so easy to hide his use, the more time he spent slipping away to vape eventually caught up with him. It took six months for Caleb* to cut back and stop vaping, and during that time an entire basketball season and GPA had come and gone. He’s still not sure how it happened so quickly.
How do I help my teen with vaping?
The consequences of a vaping habit are swift, but creating accessible resources has not kept pace. I am so lucky to be surrounded by devoted and intelligent mental health coworkers and colleagues who helped me compile these guidelines to support how to parent a vaping habit:
- Contact your school counselor (the one who provides mental health support). Ask for discretion if needed or support from them if they are aware of your child’s vaping because of a campus infraction and discipline. Some schools have developed an educational response to vaping; high school counselors may be familiar with community resources.
- If there is no mental health support on campus, call a therapist working with teenagers and ask for a free consultation or session to discuss this issue and ask for advice. In my practice, I 100% consider myself a community mental health provider and owe free advice and support to my community so I can make it a better place to live, work, and play.
- Juvenile probation does not want to incarcerate a first offender with vaping. Your local probation office could have classes or resources on this topic.
- Contact your pediatrician. Again, as a community healthcare provider your pediatrician is well aware of the outbreak of lung disease associated with vaping. You could make an appointment for your teen, who could speak to them without you present and educate them about the myths and risks of vaping.
- Substance abuse treatment has been the grateful recipient of government aid due in part to the opiod crisis so many communities are struggling with, and mental health agencies are being created to serve this population. Many of them have group therapy that teach tools for quitting.
- Buy nicotine strips (available at your local pharmacy) and, if your son/daughter has said they want to quit, ask if you can use these to test for nicotine presence in the body.
- Check out the following links and hotline for an at-home response to vaping and encouraging quitting:
Text DITCHJUUL to 88709
Parents, families; we’re all concerned; you’re not alone with this. And, if your teen is vaping, know we’re working together to respond.
I’m parenting right alongside you!
Are you or someone you know parenting this issue? Tell the Restoring Relationships community what helped you! Leave a comment below. And don’t forget to check out The Parenting Advantage to get FREE weekly trustworthy and inspiring strategies for raising successful people.
“Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant”.
*Names and identifying information about this story have been modified to protect confidentiality. None of the elements in the story have been disclosed about one person; rather, it is a collection of many.
Photo by Maria Badasian on Unsplash