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Healthy Kids: More teens are vaping and risking their health

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E-cigarettes have surpassed cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product by tweens and teens. Many kids are under the impression that vaping is less dangerous than smoking, but there’s more and more evidence showing that’s just not true.

A new way to smoke

E-cigarettes hit the market in the United States in 2007, advertised as a way to help adults give up smoking tobacco. But nonsmokers soon took up e-cigarettes too. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, e-cigarette use grew an astounding 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015. Pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates says that’s concerning, but not entirely surprising, based on how these products are marketed.

“The manufacturers flavor this stuff so it tastes like candy and ice cream and cookies and all these palatable flavors. E-cigarettes are dangerous, just as dangerous if not more dangerous than cigarettes,” she says.

How do e-cigarettes work?

E-cigarettes create an inhalable aerosol by using a battery to heat up liquid. That liquid usually contains:

• Nicotine, which is highly addictive.

• Flavorants, such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

• Other additives, including heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead.

While these devices are marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, the hotter a vaped liquid gets, the harsher its effects on human cells. Over the past few months, research has turned up evidence that vaping can pose many new risks, including:

• The vapors can mess with the body’s immune system.

• They may impair the body’s ability to heal wounds.

• Vaping has been linked to chronic bronchitis.

Unfortunately, the accessibility of e-cigarettes may be part of the attractiveness for teens.

“Kids are able to order these things on the internet, and they don’t even have to go through an adult to get them. It’s very easy for kids to get vaping products,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Start the conversation

Dr. Bradshaw encourages parents to talk with their kids about e-cigarettes and, she says, it’s a conversation that needs to start early.

“Most kids who are smokers started when they were 10 or 11. So, if you aren’t talking to your kids when they’re in the single digits—eight, nine—you’re potentially missing the window.”

For practical ways to talk with your child about the risks of vaping, click here.

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