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The Early Effects of Vaping

Published in Pediatrics, Tobacco Treatment, For the Health of It Author: George Morris,MD

Editor's Note: CentraCare's George Morris, MD, talked with Bob Hughes from KNSI about the vaping epidemic. Dr. Morris discusses the history of the e-cigarette industry and tangible ways for parents to talk to their teenagers about the dangers of vaping — even if they have already started. What follows is an edited version of their interview.

Q: Where did the e-cigarette issue begin?

Dr. Morris: I think that is good to start it back in time. E-cigarettes were designed and delivered to help people stop smoking. They really did a good job of helping some people get off tobacco products as a part of a good treatment plan.

Q: Did tobacco companies develop e-cigarettes?

Dr. Morris: Originally, it was not the tobacco companies developing them. Now, however, what’s happened in the business world is that many of the tobacco companies own a lot of the vaping companies.

Q: So, were e-cigarettes initially not a bad thing?

Dr. Morris: No, they seem to be helpful for many people to get them off tobacco. But what ended up happening was e-cigarettes then became a little bit more of an entry point or a starter kit for people to get exposed to nicotine. With different flavors, as we saw with menthol cigarettes, now they started flavored e-cigarettes. That opened up e-cigarettes to a new market: teenagers and young adults.

The hard part is how we talk to our teenagers because they’re making decisions that are going to impact their lives. They’re making adult-like decisions without perhaps knowing all the long-term consequences.

Q: What we can do to try to get that message through to these young people, because we’d like them to be around?

Dr. Morris: Some of the ways that we can do this is to talk to the parents and encourage the parents to have good conversations. We have to try to be careful with “Do it because I told you to do it” or scaring them. So, we would like it to be a conversation about what is safe to do, what is good for your brain and what is right to do when thinking about the future. The other places we can do that is to use the schools as a place to help share that education.

We can use other teens. There are many teens who are willing and able to speak with their peers. According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s “Teens and Tobacco in Minnesota: Highlights from the 2020 Youth Tobacco Survey,” 20.5% of Minnesota high school and 4.1% of middle school students have used one or more tobacco products in the past 30 days. That’s one in five high school students doing something that involves nicotine or tobacco or products for vaping. We don’t know what this is doing to their lungs. We do know what it’s doing to their brains, and that is another part that’s pretty scary.

Q: There’s evidence that if children start using nicotine, it damages their brain and they don’t recover from that, correct?

Dr. Morris: Yes, that’s hard. That becomes long-term effects, and we’re seeing that in both behavioral health and the physical effects.

Q: What other effects can early vaping have on teenagers?

Dr. Morris: We also know that teenagers who start vaping are four times as likely to start smoking later in life. Now that’s the exact opposite of what e-cigarettes were designed to do — to stop the smoking epidemic. What we’re worried about now is we’re just starting the vaping epidemic and what can we predict a few years down the road when that turns into a bunch more smokers?

My advice would be to take the time to sit down, and doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be structured, with your children, and ask them questions.

Honestly say, “This is a safe time. Are you vaping?” Ask about the whys. Ask about the who. And ask about what it would take to get them to stop. And I think that might be the approach: Instead of telling them what to do, ask them what steps it would take to get them to stop.

If you or a loved one are struggling to quit, tobacco treatment specialists provide individual counseling, approved medication options, personal quit plans to meet your goals and ongoing support.