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The Perspective
The Perspective

September 6, 2019

Vaping and back-to-school: Why parents need to have this important conversation with their children

Dr. Theo Moraes, Staff Respirologist at SickKids shares his tips for parents on how to have important conversations with children and youth about e-cigarette use – otherwise known as vaping – to help keep all kids happy and healthy.

This fall, as teens return back to school, parents need to be prepared to have an important conversation with their children about e-cigarette use – also commonly referred to as vaping – and the impact it can have on health. A new Canadian study earlier this year revealed a massive 74 per cent increase in youth vaping – between the ages of 16 and 19. However, there is a huge misperception of how dangerous the use of these substances are. Below is what you need to know to start a conversation with your child or youth about vaping.

What are e-cigarettes?

Briefly, e-cigarettes belong to a group of devices more broadly known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). ENDS come in various shapes and sizes but they all have a mouthpiece from which to inhale a vapour. A little pod holds the liquid that is vaporized and a battery provides the energy to heat and vaporize the liquid. This is dangerous because the liquid contains nicotine and other chemicals that can be harmful.  

Why are they so popular?

Although vaping and tobacco companies deny that they are marketing to young people, I would argue that advertising directed at teens can be subtle and often takes form in social media spots, attractive packaging, and teen-friendly flavours. Clever marketing and e-marketing strategies, as well as celebrity influence also suggests – historically similar to smoking – that vaping may be seen as a way to improve a teen’s social status. But vaping and tobacco companies don’t talk about how nicotine and ENDS may impact the lungs or brains of teens.

Most people are now aware about the health dangers associated with traditional smoking as they are made readily apparent on cigarette packaging. As result, fewer people are smoking today than 50 years ago; this includes young people and teenagers. This is good news for most – and as a Paediatric Respirologist I am doubly happy because when people don’t smoke, the kids around them are healthier. But with vaping, we are far from this kind of education and awareness due to the novelty of the trend and lack of research into the health effects of vaping.

What do I tell my teen about the known and unknown health risks of e-cigarette use?

E-cigarettes come with a slew of risks that have not yet been fully appreciated as more research needs to be done. While ENDS are likely safer than cigarettes, this does not mean that they are completely harmless. Here is some helpful information to begin speaking with your teen about vaping:

E-cigarettes are very addictive – just like smoking

E-cigarettes contain a lot of nicotine – some an equivalent amount to that delivered by a pack or more of cigarettes. For this reason, teens and adults who vape are able to inhale a massive amount of nicotine in one pod in a fairly short amount of time. Because there is no harsh smoke to make inhaling vapour unpleasant, most users aren’t able to stop easily or know when to stop. This is especially true for teens who may be peer-pressured to continue to inhale around their friends.

Persistent exposure to e-cigarettes may impact the lungs

As teens grow, their lungs are still developing and therefore can be particularly susceptible to any kind of damage. Nicotine is a harmful chemical in any amount. It impacts how your lungs work. For example, nicotine impairs mucociliary clearance, which is an important way for the lungs to defend themselves from infections. Nicotine can also increase the concentration of enzymes that break down the proteins in the lungs. All of these changes can put your teen at risk for reduced lung function.

E-cigarettes contain both short- and long-term risks – and most are still unknown

In the short-term, there are case reports of people having significant reactions to the chemicals in vape solution and being admitted to an intensive care unit, usually for lung disease. While researchers are still trying to understand why this is happening, some of these reactions may be allergic in nature. Most recently, a death has been reported in the United States as a result of e-cigarette use, and the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received case reports of children having seizures associated with vaping use. Rarely, but it happens, e-cigarettes have also exploded or caught fire resulting in physical injuries.

Long-term, the initial data suggests that vaping chemicals may lead to adverse health consequences over time. The biggest concern is: We simply don’t know yet what these are.

How do I get my child to listen?

Talk to your children about the use of e-cigarettes and how they can impact their health – immediately and down the road. The sooner you begin having this conversation, the more likely your child will listen. To be safe, discourage your children from vaping. Their lungs will thank you.

For more information, visit Health Canada's A Tip Sheet for Parents.