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E-Cigarettes: What Every Parent Should Know

Is your teen vaping? Do you wonder if your college-age child is vaping? If they are, there are signs you can look for and also guidelines for discussing the dangers of vaping with them.

E-cigarettes are particularly dangerous for teens and young adults. Just as many teens who vape, also known as Juuling, did not know it was dangerous when they started, many parents were or still are unaware that their child uses electronic cigarettes.

Whichever camp you fall into—whether you are a parent who wonders or a parent who has discovered that your child is vaping—there is information that can help you. Knowledge is power.

E-cigarettes’ popularity exploded in 2016, and by far the most popular brand was JUUL. It was so popular, in fact, that many teens did not talk about vaping; they talked about Juuling.

JUUL products look sleek and “cool” and modern. Easy to conceal, they fit in the palm of one’s hand. Some think they resemble a USB flash drive.

How can you tell if your teen is vaping?

There are signs you can look for if you suspect your teen is vaping. They include:

Unusual smells and aromas: While smoking tobacco produces a tell-tale unpleasant smell that lingers in the air and on the smoker’s clothes and body, e-cigarettes may have a sweet smell. While most flavored e-cigarette pre-filled pods are now banned, refillable pods still have flavors available: bubblegum, cotton candy, watermelon, etc. So if you smell unexplained aromas when your teen is around and they are not chewing gum or eating, vaping may be the cause.

Increased thirst: Nicotine dries out the mouth and throat. And propylene glycol, a chemical in e-cigarette liquid, is a dehydrating chemical. So if your child is drinking more than they used to and/or is urinating more frequently, vaping may be the culprit.

Nosebleeds: Propylene glycol may also dry the inside of the nose. Dry sinuses can crack and bleed. If your child starts having nosebleeds, it may be they are Juuling.

Skin changes: Nicotine slows wound healing and ages skin. If you observe increased acne or red splotches on your child’s face that last longer than you would expect or do not heal in a timely manner, vaping may be the cause.

Sores in the mouth: The vapors e-cigarettes produce inflame the cells in the mouth and throat. E-cigarette users may have bleeding mouth sores that are slow to heal.

Smoker’s cough: Just like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes irritate the airways. If your child develops a cough, but they are not sick, vaping may be the reason.

Avoiding caffeine: If your teen used to be a regular coffee drinker or used stimulant soft drinks but then cut back or quit, you would be right to suspect Juuling as a possible cause. Vapers may develop sensitivity to caffeine. Furthermore, nicotine can stimulate mood swings, nervousness, and irritability. Vapers may avoid or lessen their caffeine intake to counteract those effects.

Vaper’s Tongue: Vaper’s tongue is a term coined by vapers. Vaping can dry the mouth, as noted above, which can dull the taste buds. So vapers may seek out spicier foods or use more salt or spice than they used to.

Suspicious or unfamiliar parts or garbage: E-cigarettes have parts and cartridges and other accessories that are unique to them. If you see unfamiliar tech-looking or strange-looking parts or devices, such as odd-looking USB drives, cartridges, battery chargers, coiled wires, or cotton balls, in your teen’s room or garbage, it may be time to talk about vaping.

Pneumonia or unexplained lung ailment: If your teen experiences pneumonia or another severe lung infection, definitely investigate vaping.

Seizures or strokes: Vaping has also been linked to seizures and strokes.

Are there tests that can show if my teen is vaping?

Parents may wonder if there are tests that can determine if their child is vaping. There are. The body metabolizes nicotine into cotinine. Cotinine can be detected in blood, urine, hair, and saliva.

Urine Test: There are instant urine tests available over the counter.  Provided the user has inhaled nicotine within a day or two of the test, it will detect it.

Blood Test: A blood test can detect nicotine for about 2 hours after use.

Saliva Test: There are over-the-counter tests available to test saliva for nicotine. Nicotine can be detected in saliva for up to 24 hours after use.

Hair Follicle Test: If a user may have stopped using nicotine temporarily in order to pass a urine, blood, or saliva test, the hair follicle test may be employed. Nicotine can be detected in hair follicles for 3 months after it is used on a regular basis. Hair follicle tests may be ordered and completed by mail.

How to talk to your teens about vaping

There are many excellent resources that can advise you how best to talk to your teen about vaping.

Most advise that you have the discussion even if you do not suspect your child is vaping. Educate them early about why vaping is dangerous, especially for younger people whose brains and neurological systems are still developing.

But if you do believe or know your teen is vaping, experts still recommend taking the slow approach.

Pick the right time(s): Choose a neutral place and time to start discussing vaping with them. Maybe a long car ride or during an activity you are doing together that’s conducive to talking, such as taking a hike. You know your child, so you undoubtedly know how to choose a time to talk that’s best.

Discuss; do not accuse or lecture:  Do not employ guilt tactics or lecture to your teen. That may seem obvious advice, but it is also true that all parents fall into lecture mode sometimes unless they are careful to avoid it, since it is not particularly effective with teens, who are exploring their individuality and independence.

Start with the facts: Many teens who vape say they had no idea it was harmful. Many also say they did not know e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Having been warned of the dangers of traditional cigarettes both directly and indirectly their whole lives, many teens are actually shocked and disturbed to learn that they have been using nicotine. That fact alone can lead to a discussion of addiction, since nicotine is among the most addictive substances known.

Plan for many discussions: Do not expect one “talk” to change your teen’s behavior. Plan to explore the subject of vaping over time, via discussions, that may convince your teen to quit.

Talk about how to say “no”: If your child has or you think they will experience peer pressure to try vaping or to continue vaping if they have already started, discuss ways to say no. Perhaps even role play with them.

Research, alone or with your teen, tools that may be available if or when they decide to quit: Nicotine is very addictive, so even if your teen decides to quit vaping, it may not be easy. Research quitting aids. Explore them with your teen when the time is right (if they are open to trying to quit).

Understand that you can’t make them quit: Not only can’t you make your teen quit vaping, if you take an authoritarian approach, it may make your teen want to do it more. And even if you employ all the best practices listed here and that you can read about from many sources, your teen may continue to vape. But good, calm communication and discussions are still the key.




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