Teens and Vaping

As a young therapist working primarily with teenagers and young adults, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about vaping. In this post, I’ll share some of the origin story of the vaping industry, my clinical observations, concerns, as well as some tips for parents and role models for this young population.

Marketing is Pervasive and Deadly

The most popular brand of vape among my clients is JUUL. A quick Google search reveals a clue as to why.

“JUUL: The Smoking Alternative unlike any E-cigarette or vape… JUUL products deliver an exceptional nicotine experience designed for adult smokers looking for an alternative to traditional cigarettes.”

JUUL began as a thesis project of two Stanford graduate students under the premise that they would make smoking “safer.” Oh, and to do so in a way that’s more environmentally friendly than the burning of traditional cigarettes…

After years of development, the product that many of my clients have become addicted to is part of a multi-billion-dollar industry.

But how did this happen?

I assume I’m not alone in calling bullshit on these CEOs who claim they never wanted JUUL and similar products to find their way into the hands of kids. Consider some of the features:

  • Electronic, techy, sleek design, and flashing lights.
  • Addictive nicotine.
  • Fun flavors like Fruit Loops, cotton candy, and strawberry lemonade.

Let’s not forget to mention that vape products were, and continue to be, heavily marketed by young influencers through platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube… where young folx spend an average of 9 hours or more daily.

Observations

I remember being in graduate school when vape products became mainstream among my peers. I’ll never forget an interaction I had with a coworker who toted the virtues of vaping. According to him, “Vaping is good for your lungs; in fact, my vape oil is infused with vitamins.”

Neither I nor my lungs were buying it. Thanks critical thinking and grad school-induced poverty!

In writing this piece, I dug a little deeper. When I clicked on the link to the JUUL website, I learned that a user must opt to be “age verified,” a great facade to feign concern that this product may somehow get in the hands of kids under 21. In truth, my clients have admitted to lying on these questions to bypass age restrictions. This enables teens to have their vapes shipped discreetly to their homes. But if online shopping isn’t an option, worry not. Teens have told me of the numerous stores in the area that willingly sells these products to underage customers.

What I’ve found most shocking in my clinical work is that most teens I work with have little to no awareness of the following:

  • The fact that vape contains nicotine.
  • That nicotine is highly addictive.
  • The strength of nicotine in their current vape/pod/oil.
  • The origins of their vape/pod/oil.
  • The additives present.
  • Long-term health risks.

The list goes on.

During a recent online session, I sat perplexed as a watched a 19-year-old client hack, retch, and wheeze a few days after quitting a daily vape habit that spanned over two years. This individual has no history of asthma or other respiratory illness. It’s also worth noting that they, like many vape users, puff continuously on the vape throughout the day. It wasn’t until experiencing these dire health hazards that my client realized the irreparable damage being done to their body.

I’m not blaming this all on Big Tobacco; after all, adolescents have been using restricted substances for decades; however, I hope to shed light on this health and addiction crisis impacting a population with so much potential.

Suggestions

I often get frantic calls and emails from parents of teens concerned about how they’ve discovered a vape pen in a car or bedroom. While this article only scratches the surface of this problem, here are some tips that I give these parents:

  • Start talking about this stuff with your kids early and often. Finding a vape pen on a 16-year-old is too late to address the dangers of addiction. Personally, I’ve talked with kids as young as 4-years-old about the dangers of addictive substances and peer pressure.
  • With that being said, it’s never too late to implement boundaries, expectations, and zero-tolerance policies with consequences; after all, you pay the bills! Sure, taking these devices away and increasing supervision will piss your teen off; but remember, you’re not their friend, your job is to keep them safe and healthy.
  • Monitor online shopping. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen teens use their debit cards (linked to the parents’ accounts) to purchase tobacco products online… and don’t even get me started on how easy it is for a minor to get a marijuana vaporizer online! Bottom line: Read those bank statements, y’all! If a company name looks unfamiliar, Google it; after all, these companies are clever enough not to put “Teen Killers R Us” on the transaction line.
  • Share some additional tips you have with me in the comments!

Conclusion

I’ve been enjoying the podcast miniseries, The Vaping Fix, which chronicles the origins of the Silicon Valley company, Juul, and how marketing, greed, and loopholes worked together to addict millions to these nicotine vaporizers. I highly recommend checking that out.

Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Teens and Vaping”

  1. Ashley says:

    It’s scary how powerful marketing can be.

    1. Indeed! The passing of responsibility of marketing to kids is what grinds my gears. Thanks for reading, Ashley!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Wow! Extremely informative article on the realities of vaping. Every generation has something, unfortunately, as technology increases, so do our negative health consequences. Thank you for providing realistic examples on how to navigate this frightening road.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Stephanie!

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