E-Cigarettes and Vaping: Are They Safe For Your Teen?

Although use of tobacco cigarettes has decreased dramatically in recent years, adolescent use of electronic cigarettes – called vaping – is becoming increasingly common, the federal government reports.

Because of the way that these devices, also called e-cigarettes, are marketed, parents may erroneously think there is no harm in them,  pediatrician Sara Lee, MD, says.

“E-cigarettes aren't a good idea for your teenager,” Dr. Lee says. “E-cigarettes aren’t regulated, so you can’t be sure what you’re getting. I can’t say they’re safe,”

The contents of electronic cigarettes vary widely and most include nicotine, Dr. Lee says. While nicotine isn’t carcinogenic, nicotine is addictive and/or poisonous. Plus, there are other substances in the cartridge of an e-cigarette – such as propylene glycol, a known irritant – that can harm your child, Dr. Lee says.

What is an E-Cigarette?

An e-cigarette is made up of three components: a cartridge, atomizer and battery. The liquid mixture, which includes flavorings, nicotine and other chemicals, is inside the cartridge. When you inhale, the atomizer heats up the liquid and allows you to draw in vapor through the mouthpiece. What you exhale isn’t smoke, but we still don’t know if there are any problems associated with breathing second-hand vapors.

Although some physicians see e-cigarettes as a way to wean smokers from cigarettes, that may not apply to teenagers who vape, Dr. Lee says. Consider these statistics:

  • One study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that kids who vape are more likely to start using  tobacco cigarettes.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nine out of 10 smokers first try and become addicted to smoking during adolescence and that if a young person can stay smoke-free until age 21, the likelihood of ever starting to smoke is reduced.

“The non-smoking battle has gotten tougher for parents,” she says.

How to Talk to Your Kids About E-Cigarettes

It's normal for your children to be curious about e-cigarettes, Dr. Lee says. The way for parents to handle the topic is to talk to your teen about your expectations and concerns about their health, she says.

“If your children come to you about vaping, tell them it's not shown to be safe and can lead to poisoning,” Dr Lee says. “If they're inhaling it at a party, they may not know what they're smoking.”

Sara Lee, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's.You can request an appointment with Dr. Lee or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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