By Karen Oslund

My two sons are in their mid-twenties now, and I could not be more grateful that “vaping” was not a thing while they were still under my roof.  The Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov) has just updated the numbers:  there have now been 1,080 cases of serious lung injury associated with vaping and 18 deaths.  Electronic cigarettes have filled the void created when many young people decided that smoking really wasn’t cool, and big tobacco is now using high-tech cachet to hook a new generation of young people on nicotine. 

Vaping has gotten so big, so fast, that it has taken parents and schools by surprise.  In 2011, just 1.5% of high school students reported that they had vaped in the past 30 days; in 2018, this figure was 21% (cdc.gov).  To add to the challenge of confronting this threat, vaping is discrete enough that kids can vape in the hallways at school and even right in class. “Vape wear” includes backpacks and hooded sweatshirts with mouth pieces built in to the drawstring.  It is easy and sneaky to vape just about anywhere, anytime.

Nicotine is a serious addiction and youth are more susceptible to it than adults. Ask an adult smoker how many times they have tried to quit cigarettes and you will have your proof that nicotine is highly addictive.  Vaping devices deliver a powerful dose of nicotine:  one Juul pod contains the amount of nicotine in a whole pack of cigarettes. Getting kids the help they need to quit, and the skills they need to resist the pressure to start, should be of concern to every parent of teens and pre-teens.

Start the conversation, even if it does not go well. An Edutopia article called “Lessons from the Cigarette Wars” advises parents and teachers to avoid lectures about the risks of vaping because this tactic does not work (edutopia.org). However, “adolescents do respond powerfully to the idea that they are being taken advantage of.” Allowing any substance, including nicotine, to dictate their emotions, activities, and desires, is ceding control to a chemical substance, just when they are gaining personal independence and self determination. Another obvious drawback:  it costs big bucks!

The long-term risks of vaping will not be fully understood for many years. The original Surgeon General’s report linking smoking with heart disease, lung disease and cancer came out in 1964, decades after the introduction of mass produced cigarettes. The relationship of electronic nicotine devices to cancer will take years to establish, and anyone vaping now will help formulate the contents of the Surgeon General’s warning for the generations to follow. Find good facts and talk with your kids. Let them tell you what they see happening in their peer group, and offer help and support if they are already addicted.  Additional resources can be found at Tobacco Free California (tobaccofreeca.com).

The Cancer Resource Centers’ Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your health care provider.  The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.