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Parents who think their kids don’t vape may want to reconsider

Kids have to understand the state of the science on the health impacts of vaping — and know that anyone who states it’s a safe practice is lying.

FILE - In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.
In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.
Steven Senne, Associated Press

When a handful of friends and I were teenagers experimenting with cigarettes, it was hard to hide what we were doing. Cigarettes reeked. The odor was so unmistakable that it didn’t take much for alert parents and teachers to shut us down. By then, too, the dangers were becoming known, so what had been a common practice was becoming less popular and even parents who smoked didn’t want their kids to take up the habit.

My parents didn’t smoke and that I’d even consider it was a horror of major proportions.

Kids today can be sneakier. Vaping — puffing on electric devices that can be filled with different products containing a variety of flavor-enhanced substances, with or without nicotine — offers a different story altogether. Vaping doesn’t smell like cigarettes and may not smell at all. Vape devices don’t produce smoke like cigarettes, though they produce steam health officials say is not healthy to inhale.

Besides that, many vape devices look like other things, from pens to flash drives. For kids who want to rebel a little — and that seems to be a natural inclination on the road to adulthood, though rebellion takes many different forms — vaping has attracted plenty of youths.

The past couple of weeks has made clear that vaping may have some literal skeletons in its closet. That’s especially true for those who concoct their own vaping mixtures, enhance existing products or alter the vaping products they use. Officials are warning not to buy street products.

At least 215 people, many of them young, have been hospitalized nationwide with lung disease believed linked to the use of vaping devices. In Illinois, a woman died of a lung infection thought related to her vaping. Others have suffered injuries ranging across a spectrum from miserable respiratory problems to potentially permanent lung damage.

We don’t have a great idea of what the long-term health impact of vaping is in regular circumstances. Just think about how long it took Americans — including health experts — to realize that smoking was causing a dramatic surge in dire health issues like lung cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Vaping research is in comparative infancy. It might be positive for smokers as a tool to overcome nicotine addiction, but it’s certainly not an otherwise pro-health habit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health advisory issued late last week notes the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t count vaping among effective stop-smoking tools, since “available science is inconclusive” on whether it really helps.

Federal health officials say some of the sickened vapers have added tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to their vape. That’s the chemical in marijuana responsible for getting high.

While health officials admit candidly they have many questions and are actively trying to figure out precisely where the danger related to vaping lies, there’s no question the effects are serious, troubling — and entirely preventable if people will refrain from vaping entirely.

Unless one is already addicted to nicotine, there is no upside to vaping. Again, that one is unproven.

It’s especially important that parents talk to their kids about this spate of possibly life-altering illness because youths may be vaping without parental knowledge. Kids have to understand the state of the science on the health impacts of vaping — and know that anyone who states it’s a safe practice is lying.

We must tell our children that we already know inhaling vapor or steam is bad for lungs.

Parents need to realize, too, that some kids will deny vaping for fear they’ll get in trouble if the parent has forbidden it or even just disapproves. Some of the stories of this mysterious lung illness include the note that this patient or that said he or she didn’t vape — a lie to avoid getting in trouble.

We can also tell them how much we love them and that we pray they’ll do everything they can to have long and healthy lives.