Vaping: When I’m asked to pinpoint the one, most significant drug of choice right now, my answer is nicotine.

You right now: my kid doesn’t smoke! Me to you right now: lol.

Nicotine is experiencing a renaissance now. It’s true, you won’t find teens smoking cigarettes in the bathrooms, or while shooting pool, or behind the drive-in theatre like you did as a teen. No, what they’re up to is much more rampant and significantly easier to hide from parent or school official eyes and intuition. Teens today are all about using nicotine in its liquid form, free from the tar or “smoke” of cigarettes. Sure, hardcore teens still rock their good old-fashioned smokes, but for the most part, they’ve gone all-in with vaping.

Why they vape: In short, vaping is done for street cred. Think about it, how do you socially assimilate, without getting drunk or high? You vape. Vaping offers the best of both worlds, a short, subtle high or buzz, without the worry of “getting rolled” by parents for being intoxicated or wreaking of substances the next day. Teenagers often refer to the effect of vaping as a “dome”, a short, 30-second euphoric high produced by the high concentration of nicotine. Social integration and a “dome” are the initial reasons they vape, but the next is the gnarly one: they’re addicted. Addicted. Let that sink in. It’s a polarizing word and one that both the teen vaping constantly and their parents who eventually catch them tend to resist embracing. In my work, I have discovered the world of vaping knows no stereotype or social archetype. 

Ease of use: Vaping is certainly a user-friendly teenage habit. They’ll small, easy to hide, hard to catch, often times odorless, and traded on the teenage black market that makes it the easiest substance to get. I recall when vapor nicotine hit the market, and they were the size of a 1993 cell phone. One of those original vapes was not high-school friendly. But now, they are the size of a pen, a pen. What’s more? They come in trendy, fruity flavors to satisfy even the pickiest teen vaper. I hear stories from high school students on the regular about peers vaping in class, while the teacher is teaching, and the teacher has no clue. The kids know, and it bothers many of them, but more than not, there is a resounding code of silence. For one, no teen wants to be pegged as a nark, but also, there is a primal teenage amusement that the teacher cannot tell that some are VAPING in their classroom WHILE they are teaching. I can’t.

Side effects: I am not a medical professional and I’m not going to list the health effects. But if you ask a teen, there is a commonly accepted mindset that vaping is not smoking, and therefore not bad for you. This reminds me of my own father’s stories about cigarette companies sending reps onto his high school campus to distribute samples. No one, according to him, viewed it as bad for your health. Today, many kids won’t do it because they think it’s gross but there is not a straight line between the use of nicotine in its vape form and buzz words like cancer, as it exists with traditional cigarette consumption. My fear is that vaping is like the wild west right now, and in about twenty years from now, medical professionals will have enough data points and case studies to condemn its use much like the way it went down with cigarettes. And while ambiguity might exist regarding health, make no mistake about it, vaping is both extremely expensive and addictive.

Here's a basic framework for addressing vaping: 

  1. Don't assume your teen doesn't do it or hasn't tried it--and address the issue calmly and proactively. 
  2. Don't automatically assume they're addicted if they've tried it, but make it known that they can become so quickly.
  3. Expose them to 3rd party information about the health concerns. Information is power. 
  4. Have a sit-down to discuss your expectations and consequences if they engage in vaping.
  5. Understand the peer pressure is real and walk them through strategies on how to be around it, but not do it.
  6. Help them quit. That may require gum, patches, monitoring and a whole lot of positive reinforcement and incentives.