Health & Science

Worried about your teen and vaping? Here’s a script for how to talk about it

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Vaping has become widespread among teens and tweens over the past decade, with about 20 percent of high schoolers and 5 percent of middle schoolers using e-cigarettes. And an alarming number of them are regular users, meaning that they’re likely hooked on nicotine.

This popularity is fueled by the availability of flavored pods and disposable vapes (which are cheap and make it easy to throw away the evidence). And with the unregulated nature of the e-cigarette industry, teens can easily be tricked into thinking vaping is not that big of a deal.

But there are serious health and safety concerns associated with vaping (especially for young people!), so it’s something we all need to be talking about with our kids.

Wondering how to approach the topic of vaping without making your teen or tween roll their eyes and tune out? See the suggested script below. Just remember, the most important thing is not to judge! Stick to the facts, and to listening and offering support to your child, whether they or their friends have vaped or not.

If your teen or someone they know wants to quit or cut back on vaping or needs more info about it, MyLifeMyQuit.org (or texting “Start My Quit” to 36072) is a really good place to start.

Set the stage

You might wait to bring this topic up at some point when it feels like it fits with the context, for example when you pass a vape shop, or see someone vaping on the street or in a movie. The conversation is likely to feel less confrontational to your teen if it isn’t brought up out of the blue. You can start by saying:

“Vaping has become a trend, so I wouldn’t be that surprised if you’ve heard people talking about vaping, seen your friends or classmates vaping, or even if you’ve already tried it yourself. I’m not bringing this up to judge you or to get you or anyone in trouble!

Even if vaping is something you think you would never try, I just want to make sure you know the facts. That way you can be ready to give a reason for not wanting to do it, or help support your friends, or debate someone about it, or whatever you might need.

How do you feel about vaping?”

Discuss the dangers 

Kids often see vaping as no big deal, especially when they see so many people their age doing it. They might assume that vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking. You can gently share the facts by saying:

“There’s research out there showing how vaping can harm your physical and mental health, especially when you’re young.

The first reason is that JUUL and most other kinds of vape pens and pods have nicotine in them, even if they don’t always say that they do. Nicotine is toxic and can damage your brain. Before age 25 your brain is still growing, so using nicotine when you’re young can actually harm the parts of your brain that are supposed to help you learn and pay attention, help you manage your moods, and help you make smart decisions.

Nicotine also literally makes your brain wired to crave more nicotine, which is exactly how these e-cigarette companies make so much money off of customers!”

“Some of the other ingredients in the e-cigarette aerosols and liquids are toxic too. They can damage your lungs and throat, and even affect your tongue and skin. Some of the chemicals can cause cancer.

The aerosols are often made to smell good so that they’re more tempting, but it’s important to know what’s really in them before you decide to breathe them into your lungs.

We can read the list of ingredients together if you want.”

Talk about temptations

As unhealthy as vaping is for teens, it’s unrealistic to pretend it’s all bad—otherwise no one would do it, right? Coming from a place of understanding that there will be temptations helps show your child you’re on common ground. And acknowledging the reasons someone might start vaping gives you an opportunity to offer a counter argument to those reasons, too.

“There are lots of reasons that people start vaping. They like how the flavors smell, or they’re just curious about it and want to try, or they use it to take an edge off of their stress, or they think it’s safer than regular cigarettes. I can understand some of those reasons.

But vaping can also affect your ability to play sports well or concentrate in school, it can make you feel like you’re not in control anymore until you take another hit, it can make foods not taste as good anymore, and it can make you more likely to get sick.

Do you think it would be worth the risk?”

Practice a plan to say “no”

Teens are wired to want to fit in with peers, so it can be difficult to make the right decision when faced with peer pressure. But practicing ahead of time for how they’d respond in those tricky situations is one way to make those moments much easier.

“If anyone offers you a vape or asks why you’re not trying it, it’s always good to have some answers ready. You can practice these in the mirror or on me, or write down your favorite responses.

You could give a health or sports reason: I don’t want to mess up my lungs for soccer. It’s hard enough to breathe during games!

You could use your parents or even social media as an excuse: I just know it would get back to me, even if I tried it for one second. I have such bad luck.

You could change the subject or suggest another activity: Who wants to go get ice cream?

You could question whether vaping is a good idea: Do you even know what’s in that stuff?

You can always just be polite and straightforward: No, thanks, not for me!

What do you think you would say?”

Offer resources

Opening this line of communication can help ensure that your child knows that they can come to you with any questions or problems. Be sure to remind them that you’re always there for them to offer help without judgment—but suggest other resources too, just in case they don’t want to discuss it with you. The main idea is just to make sure they can get help from a trusted source if they need it.

“If you or anyone you know ever wants to cut back on vaping or quit, or just wants more facts about it, there are plenty of resources to help. The site MyLifeMyQuit.org looks like a really good place to start.

You can also come to me with any questions or issues about vaping if it comes up, and I promise I won’t be mad! In fact, I’ll be proud of you for coming to me and asking for help.

I trust you to make good decisions, but I’m also here for you if you ever want someone to talk to.”


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Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.