“Look past the smoke and mirrors of vaping.” – The FDA’s Real Cost Campaign

Teens and rebellion have had a strong, enduring relationship. Throughout many generations of history, this pairing has manifested in various forms: sneaking out, smoking, drinking, dancing, stealing the family car, dating, being on social media, and so on. Over the past few years, teenage rebellion has recruited a new and dangerous player to the team: vaping.

Today, approximately one in four US teens vapes or smokes e-cigarettes. Vaping involves inhaling and exhaling aerosols produced by an electronic cigarette or other comparable device. Often, the liquid (“vape juice”) is flavored and odorless, making it appealing and easy for teens to keep their habit hidden. Taking it a step further, e-cigarette companies are manufacturing vapes to look like ink pens and USB drives, which only helps teens conceal and continue their vaping. These aerosols aren’t benign, harmless little vapors of water; they are toxic, poisonous chemicals, some of which are also found in regular cigarettes. While vapes don’t have all the contaminants of cigarettes, they still contain some nicotine, even in small amounts. Nicotine is highly addictive, and can negatively impact adolescent brain development, as well as lead to lung disease, cardiac issues, cancer, other addictions, and/or death. E-cigarette marketing is largely unregulated and the products are easily accessible, creating the perfect environment for teenage vaping.

So, what’s the appeal to vaping? Perhaps it’s a way for teens to flex their autonomy. By choosing to vape, a teenager may feel like it’s their chance to be an “adult” and to engage in an “adult” behavior. Maybe their friends started vaping, so they naturally followed the herd to avoid being an outsider. Or, it could simply be the classic adolescent thrill of being sneaky and secretive, of getting away with something. What begins with curiosity could result in irreversible damage. Regardless of teens’ “justifications” for vaping in the moment, the effects can be painful and long-lasting.

With the spread of COVID-19, many retail stores, schools, parks, and other hangout spots have temporarily closed. In several states, smoke shops are being shut down because they’re not deemed an “essential” business. Children and teens are now spending more time at home and less time socializing in person. Theoretically, it could be estimated that the amount of opportunities for teens to buy, use, or hide a vape has decreased with social distancing and self-isolation. Vaping and smoking are often social behaviors that can actually spread the Coronavirus due to the tendency for people to share e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. Virus particles may even be floating in the smoke or vapor. Consumers frequently touch their faces while engaging in these behaviors, which increases their chances of becoming infected and transmitting the Coronavirus. In general, smokers are likely to get more infections due to smoking lowering the body’s natural defense system, making them more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Any way you slice it, COVID-19 just doesn’t mix with vaping or smoking.

TAKE-AWAY: Adolescence is a natural rite of passage, shaped by our behaviors, choices, and experiences. Communicate with your teen about vaping. Discuss the dangers, the long-term effects, and your own worries and concerns. Be supportive and empathic. Help them find ways to appease their cravings, such as exercising, playing music, doing a craft, etc. By making it personal and showing you’re invested in them, they’ll be more apt to hear you out.

If you or your teen is interested in learning more about e-cigarettes or quitting, visit Lung.org/ecigs or Lung.org/stop-smoking or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.