What parents need to know about vaping

With vaping continuing to rise among young people, are we set for a new generation of smokers?

Vaping, e-cigarettes, or ‘juuls’. These are just a few of the names for the electronic device that are a rising concern among parents as their teens fall for their sometimes sweet, candy-like flavours.

A 2020 Royal Children’s Hospital National Health Poll survey of over 2000 parents found that 73 per cent of parents were concerned their teen might try e-cigarettes, yet 57 per cent had never discussed e-cigarette use or vaping with their teen.

With social media platforms like TikTok glorifying vaping, as another recent study found, many teenagers believe these are a safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Experts from The Australian National University have also discovered that ‘young non-smokers who vape, are around three times more likely to take up smoking than non-vapers’.

So what do parents need to know about vaping?

What is vaping?

Vapes, e-cigarettes, ‘juuls’ (pronounced ‘jewels’), electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-hookahs, mods, vape pens, alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS) are all lithium-battery operated devices. Users of e-cigarettes refer to it as ‘vaping’ or ‘juuling’, but new terms are constantly rising in popularity.

They work by heating a liquid, or ‘juice’ until it becomes an aerosol that users inhale. Some users mistakenly believe that the ‘cloud’ produced from vaping is a vapour, similar to steam, when it is an aerosol, a fine mist of chemicals that enter the body via the lungs.

What are the health risks?

Many e-cigarettes are marketed as ‘nicotine free’; however, as the National Health and Medical Research Council state, users may be exposed to chemicals and toxins such as formaldehyde, heavy metals, particulate matter and flavouring chemicals, at levels that have the potential to cause adverse health effects.

It’s also important to note that there are no quality or safety standards, meaning the manufacture, contents and labelling of e-cigarettes is currently unregulated in Australia.

While there are some health risks we do know, there are still many we don’t.

Are they legal?

They fall under the Tobacco Amendment Act 2016, meaning they are regulated in the same way as tobacco products (traditional cigarettes).

Simply, it means e-cigarettes cannot be used in areas where smoking is banned, displayed by retailers or sold to people under 18 years of age, even if it does not contain nicotine.

Talking about vaping with teens

Dr Anthea Rhodes, Poll Director and Paediatrician at The Royal Children’s Hospital, says:  ‘Talking to teens about risky behaviours is a really important way for parents to help keep their child safe. Having a conversation about e-cigarettes will not only help educate them, but help parents to develop an honest line of communication and encourage children to share their concerns.’  She explains more in the video below.

You can start by asking your teen what they know, and then help them better understand the risks.  But what happens when your teen tells you that it’s just flavour, water, or not smoking? Paul Dillon of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia has created helpful fact sheets that help parents have these challenging conversations.

Quit also has a range of resources available, including a ‘myth buster’ infographic to explain the risks to your teen.

Ultimately current research points to the use of e-cigarettes best being avoided.