Think back to less than 15 years ago, when it was common to walk out of a store or restaurant and be met with the unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke. It was a time when nearly 21 of every 100 adults participated in this daily habit.
Fast-forward to today and the number of people who smoke is down about 5 percentage points. This decrease likely has to do with the fact that research exposed the deadly health effects that smoking cigarettes can cause, taking the lives of 480,000 people each year.
Even though people continue to quit smoking cigarettes, it’s not stopping people from finding other alternatives to satisfy their urge to smoke.
Many are turning to e-cigarettes, and what’s even more troubling is that it’s becoming the “cool” thing to do among adolescents.
Between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use went up 900 percent among high school students and has been the most commonly used tobacco product among both middle and high school students since 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this habit is putting kids at risk for high blood pressure, irregular breathing and impaired brain development.
Adolescents who have smoked e-cigarettes are also more than three times more likely to move on to marijuana than teens who have never tried vaping.
Vaping is a topic that all parents and educators should understand and be comfortable speaking about with children. Here’s some advice on how to start the conversation:
• Get their viewpoint.
Instead of listing off facts and health effects, consider starting with curiosity. Rather than saying, “We need to talk,” you might ask your teen, “What’s your take on e-cigarettes?” or “Do you know kids who are vaping?” Discovering what adolescents already know and think about vaping can shape how the rest of your exchange may go.
• Before suggesting why not to do it, ask why.
Some adolescents vape for the thrill of defying authority while others do so to be considered “cool” in the eyes of their peers.
Compact vaporizers have become the latest craze. Looking like flash drives, they allow teenagers to easily conceal their e-cigarettes and take quick, discreet hits at home, in school hallways and even in class.
The stimulant quality of nicotine can also be attractive to some teenagers and cause them to think that they’re taking less of a risk by forgoing cigarettes or drugs.
Also, flavors like cotton candy, blueberry and chocolate can mask the nicotine flavor, making e-cigarettes even more appealing.
• Share your concern and answer their questions.
Teenagers can be quick to tune out adults, so you may want to avoid criticism and encourage an open dialogue.
Remember, your goal is to have a conversation, not to deliver a lecture. Don’t feel like you have to get everything out in the open in one sitting. It’s OK for your conversation to take place over time, in bits and pieces.
More than 2 million high school and middle school students regularly used e-cigarettes in 2017.
By having a conversation with them, you may have the opportunity to influence and help prevent them from joining those statistics.
Dr. David Severance is the chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare of Colorado.
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