Teens and Vaping: What are The Risks?

Connection, approval, acknowledgment, and attention are important to teens. They want to be seen and accepted by their peers. This is a natural part of adolescence. And as humans, we all have the basic needs for security, comfort, and love.
However, many teens experience bullying and peer pressure in their adolescence and have difficulty dealing with the harmful mental and emotional impact. This can result in turning to addictive or harmful behaviors for temporary relief from pain and to feel a sense of belonging. According to the Stop Bullying Now Foundation, 60 percent of middle school students say they have been bullied.

How Does Vaping Encourage Addiction in Adolescence? 

Vaping has been marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, and young adults may feel that vaping is trendy. However, it’s important to educate parents and youth now that vaping carries its own set of serious health consequences. Like smoking cigarettes or marijuana, vaping is a gateway to other substances for soothing and medicating painful feelings and emotions.

Just as smoking helps a person suppress emotions, vaping does the same. When feeling stressed or reactive, individuals will turn to vaping to suppress their emotions (and perhaps find relief in the exhalation motion and chemicals)— rather than working through their challenges, healing painful emotions, finding healthy solutions, and problem-solving. 

What Are the Health Consequences of Vaping?

Although some sources say the chemicals in vaping cartridges– such as vegetable glycerine, chemical flavorings, and propylene glycol– are fewer and less harmful in the short-term than cigarettes, we don’t know the long-term consequences of being exposed to these chemicals. (1)
The chemicals from e-cigarette cartridges have been linked to lung tissue damage, respiratory problems, and what we currently know as a “mysterious” deadly lung illness that’s already resulted in several deaths. (2)
Vaping with liquid nicotine may also be just as addictive and harmful as smoking cigarettes. For example, one vape cartridge from a JUUL pen is said to have the equivalent of 200 puffs or an entire pack of cigarettes. (3)

What Can Parents and School Systems Do to Help Steer Teens Away From Vaping and Other Addictive Behaviours?

School systems, parents and teachers have the opportunity to make a difference. By integrating tools and healthy coping mechanisms for youth to feel safe and share their challenges at home and in the classroom, teens are more likely to work through emotional pain, anxiety, and depression in a productive way.
By teaching healthy coping mechanisms in adolescence, we may be able to prevent teens from turning to other addictive substances and behaviors down the road.
Learning how to manage and cope with difficult emotions can be done with natural techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, movement, healthy boundary setting, journaling, and art therapy. These simple techniques can be done by anyone at any time, and have little to no cost, which makes them easy to teach in schools and at home.

To help teens create awareness around when their needs aren’t being met and how they can meet their needs in a healthy way, parents and teachers can have an on-going conversation with youth and routinely ask questions such as:

1. How well are your needs for appreciation and acceptance being met?

On a scale of zero to 10, zero being by no one or none/ daily evidence of others appreciating me / I feel perfectly appreciated.
2. What are the three most likely sources you might go to get your needs for appreciation and acceptance met? A few examples below: 
Writing in a journal, exercising, reading, visiting family, hanging out with friends, work, getting outdoors, sports, dancing, cooking, school work, alcohol, smoking, vaping, shopping, eating. 
3. Questions for consideration (rate from zero to ten):

a) How well are your needs for affection being met?

b) How well are your needs for attention being met?
c) How well are your needs for acceptance being met?
d) How well are your need for approval being met?
e) Do you feel seen, heard and acknowledged?
To help teens get their needs met, parents and teachers could: 
– Sign them up for fun classes and their favorite extracurricular activities.
– Educate them about healthy boundary setting, which will cultivate self-worth and self-esteem early on.
– Learn more about their hobbies and interests, participate in them with their children, and help them create more time for the things they love.
– Encourage them to talk about their emotions and experiences at home. Practice active listening and engage in the conversation with them.
Being aware that teens are experiencing emotional pain in the first place is the first and most important step in preventing addiction and addictive behaviors in adolescence.