Years ago, I watched a movie called "Thank you for smoking." It starred Aaron Eckhart. It is hilarious and well written, but makes you cover your mouth in shock before you laugh. Eckhart plays a hot-shot tobacco executive named Nick Naylor who spends the movie justifying his lifestyle and his product. In one scene, he talks about how he never flies on private jets, because if he can convince just one kid on the airplane to pick up smoking, he's "Paid for my flight. Round trip!"
See what I mean? It makes you cover your mouth in shock.
I feel the same shock about vaping, but without the laugh after. Teenage smoking was at a 40-year low until now. With the introduction of vaping, there’s been an increase in teen smoking and I have the same “why would you do that,” response I had to that line in the movie.
E-cigarettes have been in the U.S. since 2006 - so they are relatively new - which means a few things. It means that they are still gaining popularity and growing. It means that we still don’t know everything about them. Personally, I also think it means it's a good time to nip this in the bud.
What are the known dangers of e-cigarettes?
There are conflicting reports about the dangers of e-cigarettes - just as there were conflicting reports about cigarettes many years ago. Here are some of things we do know.
- Some e-cigarettes have nicotine, some do not. Even many advertised as nicotine free have nicotine in them. I hate that. When I eat an Oreo I know what I’m doing. But when I found out eating a fruit yogurt was the equivalent of three bowls of Lucky Charms, I got mad because that’s sneaky. I don’t like sneaky.
- Nicotine is dangerous. This is especially true in growing teenage brains when the likelihood of addiction is higher.
- Cancer-causing toxins are inhaled when vaping. Vaping flavors like strawberry and unicorn poop (really it’s a flavor) are perfect to attract kids. But the fruit flavored ones are actually more unsafe. You read that right. The food additives, when heated, can become volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are known to have negative impacts on human health.
- Kids who start with e-cigarettes often progress to regular cigarettes. And it’s much easier to hide vaping than it is to hide cigarette smoking.
- Vaping is starting to make cigarette smoking cool again.
- The nicotine-filled liquids have led to increased accidental nicotine poisoning as recorded by calls to poison control.
- Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused explosions and fires.
How do we educate our children about these dangers?
I don’t envy kids having to grow up these days. It feels like they have more things to distract and tempt them. Instagram, snap chat, video games, phone time, Our list of things we have to talk to our kids about just gets longer and longer. And now there’s e-cigarettes.
I currently have two teenagers so I know talking to them isn’t always easy. I don’t claim to have a perfect relationship with my kids and I’m definitely not a child-rearing expert, but I scoured ye old internet for advice on bringing things up with them. Some of it has worked and some of it hasn’t.
- Find the right moment: for me, that’s when the kids are in the car. I like that they have no escape.
- Find the right mood: like when the sun is shining and Kanye is playing on the radio, and there’s that perfect five seconds in the day of a teen.
- Tell them the facts: you know, all that stuff I mentioned above.
- Keep the conversation open and non judgmental.
- Recognize the limits of your power: for decades (or perhaps centuries ) teens have ignored all good advice set forth by well-meaning parents. They’re not necessarily going to start now. But we keep trying.
If you have more questions and concerns, speak with your primary care provider.
I’ll leave you with one last scene from the movie.
Kid: My Mommy says smoking kills.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Nick Naylor: Well, then she's hardly a credible expert, is she?