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How to Talk With Teenagers About Vaping

Other teenagers may simply find themselves wanting to sample flavors with names like “German Chocolate Beefcake” or be drawn to e-cigarettes by mesmerizing videos of tricks done with the exhaled vapor.

If adults address only the downsides of risky temptations it’s easy for adolescents to dismiss us as killjoys who just don’t get it. Appreciating the allure of vaping and the other chancy things teenagers sometimes do can make it easier for adults to say their piece. In the end, we want our teenagers to weigh their options and be self-protective. We can model this approach by saying, “Look, it’s not that I hate fun. It’s that I love you.”

Teenagers can be quick to tune out adults when we treat all hazards as equal. To this end, we should allow that experimenting with conventional e-cigarettes is almost certainly less harmful than experimenting with illegal drugs, while also helping teenagers understand that using e-cigarettes is not without risks. Of course, vaping is also replacing the traditional ways of smoking marijuana — what may seem like a strawberry-kiwi flavored vape could contain cannabis-infused oil.

“We are still learning new things about vaping, none of which are reassuring,” says Dr. Skyler Kalady, assistant professor of pediatrics and medical director of complex care at the Cleveland Clinic.

“The developing brain is a lot more susceptible to addiction,” she notes, “and nicotine is highly addictive.” Even vaping solutions without nicotine sometimes contain compounds that may become toxic or even carcinogenic when vaporized. In addition, metal microparticles that are released by the e-cigarette’s heating coils can, according to Dr. Kalady, “put kids at risk for reactive airway disease, asthma and even emphysema.”

We keep our teenagers’ trust when we are forthright about what we know and what remains unclear.

“Nicotine is highly addictive,” we might say, “and even if you don’t get hooked, it can affect the way your brain is developing. As for the long-term impact of inhaling chemicals and metal particles, there’s still a lot we don’t know. But why risk it?”

Parenting teenagers would be a lot less stressful if we could lay down the law and leave it at that. But adopting a thou-shalt-not stance overestimates the adult’s control and underestimates the teenager’s autonomy. It can also inspire teenagers to abuse their independence to make a point.

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