Vaping education programs are the most in demand programs requested by parents and school professionals right now. Parents don’t understand it, and schools don’t know how to manage it. Even with the uptick in concerns, there is very little information on the harmful effects of vaping and a tendency by parents to minimize it compared with alcohol and other drugs. Although there’s a clear “don’t smoke” mentality among both parents and teens, vaping is viewed differently than cigarettes, despite the presence of nicotine.
Today’s release of the annual Monitoring the Future report from the University of Michigan and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) officially confirms that vaping is a full-blown epidemic among our teens. Based on our experience in schools and our interactions with more than 100,000 students annually, I knew it was going to figure prominently in the report, but I was shocked at the magnitude of the growth.
According to the report, the percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled, rising from 11 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2018. This means that one in five 12th grade students have vaped nicotine in the last 30 days. It’s the largest jump in adolescent usage for any substance in the 43 years that Monitoring the Future has been tracking drugs, tobacco, and alcohol use among teenagers.
The good news is that parents can take immediate steps to educate themselves and their teens about the dangers of vaping and reverse this disturbing trend. Parents must understand that it’s not only the health impact of nicotine use, or even unknown dangers of the act of vaping itself – it’s also the implications. It’s a call-to-action that all substance use must be addressed with equal concern and the message to teens must be one of zero tolerance.
As a parent and a long-time prevention expert, I’ve experienced firsthand just how savvy teens can be when faced with mixed messages. The Monitoring the Future data supports the fact that consistent messaging around opioids is starting to make a difference. However, we are still up against misleading messages: that marijuana is healthy and not “really” addictive, vaping is a safer alternative to smoking and stimulants are often perceived as necessary to help students achieve.
Parents have real power to step in and make a difference. They can start by conveying that, despite what teens may think, more young people than ever before remain abstinent . That fact is in direct contrast to the popular misconception, perpetuated by film and television, that virtually all young people use alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and other drugs.
Parents can help address peer pressure by letting their teens know outright that vaping, drinking alcohol and using drugs is not the norm or a “rite of passage” and that they are likely to experience even more significant consequences today if they use nicotine, drink or take drugs. When parents are actively engaged and set clear boundaries, rules and consequences, teens are less likely to use substances. Likewise, asking a pediatrician to begin behavioral health screenings as early as sixth grade can make a difference. Early intervention with any substance use issue is critical because science shows that there can be more substantial damage to brain development and an increased likelihood of having a substance use disorder later in life.
I also can’t reiterate enough that research shows communicating with teens and even roleplaying scenarios where they might experience peer pressure can be very effective. A message of “It’s not so bad to be smoking a little pot or vaping once in a while” will not work. The message must be clear: “We don’t want you to use any substances” and then parents must follow through with meaningful consequences if teens violate the rule.
Additionally, it’s critical for parents to understand the risk factors for substance use. Is there a family history of substance use disorder, either with alcohol or drugs? Are there any behavioral or mental health issues? Have they experienced trauma? These factors increase a child’s risk for substance use.
As parents, we want the best for our kids. We hold their hands when they’re learning to cross the street. We make sure they wear helmets when they’re riding a bike. Substance use is no different – whether it’s nicotine, marijuana, alcohol or other drugs. Research and experience show that education and prevention work. We must empower ourselves and take immediate action now to help our children live long, healthy and productive lives.
Learn more at Caron Experts Urge Parents Not to Minimize Dangers of Vaping, Advocate for Immediate Intervention and a Zero Tolerance Policy
By Tammy Granger
By Christine Storm, MPH