E-Cigarettes and vaping: what parents need to know

Since the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act started restricting cigarette ads in 1971, the dangers of smoking and tobacco products have become well known. But with the advent of e-cigarettes and vaping, the tobacco industry has picked up where it left off by offering an array of products that appeal directly to young people.

“The use of e-cigarettes among high school students has dramatically increased,” says Jennifer Lavallee, APRN, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Southern New Hampshire Health. According to the 2018 Youth Tobacco Use Survey, more than 3.6 million kids nationwide use e-cigarettes, making them the most popular tobacco product on the market. Of particular concern are the rates of increased e-cigarette use by high school and middle school students in 2017 – 21% and 5% respectively. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called e-cigarette use among children an epidemic and one of the biggest public health challenges today.

Parents should know not only the hazards of e-cigarette use, but also the myths and misleading claims that drive their popularity.

Vaping 101

First, a primer on the components of e-cigarettes and terms used to describe these devices. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs), vapes, and vape-pens are just a few types of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). These devices consist of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge containing an “e-liquid” or “e-juice,” and a heating component. The battery powers the heating component, turning the e-liquid into an aerosol or vapor, which is inhaled through the mouthpiece and exhaled. The inhalation of these vapors is called “vaping.”

ENDS come in many styles, including “mods” that may feature elaborate artwork and technology for modifying the flavor, amount, and consistency of the vapor. While some are made to be seen, many mods are designed for discretion. The JUUL, one of the most popular vaping devices, has a sleek, hi-tech design resembling a flash drive. JUULs use pre-filled “pods” available in flavors like mint, mango, candy and dessert varieties. The desire to try these flavors is one of the top motivators for teen use.

Safety Concerns

Many teens believe that vaping and e-cigarette use is less harmful than smoking tobacco. Although the aerosol does contain fewer toxic chemicals than tobacco smoke, most e-liquids contain nicotine; for example, one JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

“Teens are more susceptible to the addictive properties of nicotine,” Lavallee says. “Nicotine at a young age has been associated with mental problems, like depression and panic disorder. In addition, the neurotransmitters involved in impulse control are permanently altered, putting kids at higher risk to try other substances later in life.” Research shows that kids who use e-cigarettes are actually more likely to smoke traditional tobacco products.

Once teens are addicted to nicotine, Lavallee adds, they can experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without it, including anxiety, trouble concentrating, dizziness, and headaches.

Other risks include burns; Lavallee notes that some of the devices have been known to explode. They’ve also been associated with coughing and asthma symptoms.

Talk with Your Kids

In February 2019, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, stated  “kids using e-cigarettes are children who rejected conventional cigarettes but don’t see the same stigma associated with the use of e-cigarettes.”

The FDA is just one of the organizations combating the growth of e-cigarette use among youth. New Hampshire state law prohibits the sale of ENDS products to anyone under 18, and some schools are treating these devices as drug paraphernalia. At Lavallee’s practice, Merrimack Pediatrics, the medical staff give handouts on e-cigarettes and vaping to kids starting at age 10. But much responsibility rests with parents.

“It’s important to start talking to your children at a young age about why you don’t want them to ever try this,” Lavallee says. “Prevention is absolutely key.”

Jennifer Lavallee, APRN, is board certified as a Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner at Merrimack Pediatrics. She received her medical degree at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Accomplished in both emergency and pediatric primary care, Jennifer has over twenty years’ experience ensuring children stay happy and healthy.

To book an appointment with Jennifer Lavallee or to find a pediatrician, visit SNHhealth.org/find-a-doctor.

SNH Medical Center
8 Prospect St.
Nashua, NH 03060

Amherst Medical Center
8 Limbo Lane
Amherst, NH 03031

Merrimack Medical Center
696 Daniel Webster Hwy
Merrimack, NH 03054

Pelham Medical Center
33 Windham Road
Pelham, NH 03076

West Campus
29 Northwest Blvd
Nashua, NH 03063


Categories: Health, Teens