“So if you could tell parents anything, without any fear of blowback, what would it be?” I asked my son’s wrestling coach this past weekend, during a break in the last tournament of the year.
“Vaping is bigger than anyone even imagines,” he said. And then he added, sadly, “And don’t trust your kids.”
It was a dramatic statement coming from one of the most thoughtful, mild mannered men I know, so his words hit especially hard. But I don’t question him. Mike is the vice principal of an upper middle class high school in New Jersey, after being a popular physics teacher for many years. He has coached kids for almost a decade, and has 2 middle school boys of his own.
It was the second time in a week that vaping came up. Earlier, a mom had reached out to me. She had been going through her 7th grade son’s Instagram, and was horrified to read his messages. Her son was vaping with other kids on the school bus. She was still shaken as she asked me about one of the boys in the vaping group. Did I know him? It turns out I did, and I was shocked. He wasn’t one of the kids I would have thought would step out onto the hire wire of risk at such an early age.
“Don’t be shocked,” Mike the coach said, “it’s the kids you least expect, it could be my kids, it could be anyone. They just don’t have mature judgment.” And so vaping is becoming the “thing” that young kids try. I want to compare it to cigarette smoking, but it is so much worse than that. So. Much. Worse.
For one, it’s sneaky and it’s tough to detect. It doesn’t stick out like cigarettes, there can be little to no smoke, a sweet smell instead of the foul odor of cigarettes. I’ve heard stories of kids vaping in class when the teacher’s back is turned. And then there is “Juuling.” The Juul is a sleek, almost elegant vaporizer that looks like a computer flash drive. It consists of “pods” of nicotine juice that comes in flavors like mango and crème brulee. It heats up the nicotine juice to create vapor, which is then inhaled. While it is intended for people 21 years of age or older, the truth is that teens are easily getting their hands on it. Just like we were able to sneak cigarettes or beer when we were under age.
But this is different.
Each pod in the Juul contains the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. So the nicotine concentration is extremely high and can even give a “buzz” to newer users.
Think about that.
We know e-cigarettes should not be considered safe for your body. But a young body ingesting 20X the amount of nicotine – an addictive drug if ever there was one –shooting through the still developing body of a teenager. We know that nicotine has been proven to have long-term impacts on brain development.
It may affect teens’ behavior, concentration, memory and their ability to learn. Young people who vape have also been shown to be twice as likely to suffer respiratory symptoms like a persistent cough, bronchitis and congestion as teens who don’t.
And kids don’t appreciate how dangerous vaping is. There isn’t the same public message about the dangers of vaping like the effective campaign against cigarette smoking.
My mom friend, ironically, is an oncology doctor. Her father died of lung cancer. Her son still misses him. She thought she had done everything “right”.“I talked to him about the dangers of smoking and vaping. My husband has talked to him about how addiction runs in his family. So he needs to be extra careful. And yet it wasn’t enough.”
No, that may not be enough to counter the message our teens are getting about vaping.But we resolve to do more. Remember, we are not powerless here.
*Knowledge is power. Learn about vaping and its dangers. Talk to your kids about it. And when you’re finished, talk to them some more. It’s an ongoing conversation we need to have with our kids for a long, long time.
*Get your child’s school involved. Many schools are still trying to grapple with the wave of vaping that is crashing in. One school has bathroom monitors. Another puts student created posters listing the dangers of vaping in the hallways. It may not be enough, but it’s a start.
*Look through your child’s phone. As my son’s coach says, “Don’t trust your child.” It hurts to be like that, but it could hurt far worse if you put your head in the sand.
*Write to your state’s Attorney General, governor, and other state representatives and appeal to them to join the fight against vaping. We need a public campaign like the effective anti-smoking campaign. We need to push the makers of “Juul” and other ecigarettes to make the product less appealing.
*Talk with other moms. I told my friend she had my support and I gave her the phone number for the other boy’s mom. My friend immediately called her and shared the disturbing news. The other mom, to her credit, was very receptive to my friend. They put their boys on lockdown and took away their cell phones. It may just be the beginning, but these women will fight for their boys. We all need to fight for our children.