How to Talk To Your Kids About Vaping

Parents Against Vaping

A parent activist shares some important tips

In the spring of 2018, Dorian Fuhrman learned that her son and his friends were JUULing. After a quick online search, Dorian realized that the use of flavored e-cigarette among youth was considered an “epidemic” by health officials. Dorian then joined forces with Meredith Berkman and Dina Alessi, and the three moms launched Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes. The trio has appeared before Congress and taken to the streets to ensure their message is heard: The e-cig industry wants to hook your kids. These super moms appear in the latest episode of my podcast Next Question, where I ask how we got here. Read our conversation below.

Katie Couric: The CDC reports that nearly four million young people are using e-cigarettes, and we’re inundated by news stories on a daily basis about vaping-related illnesses. Why do you think vaping has become so widespread in the U.S.?

Dorian Fuhrman: The latest National Youth Tobacco Survey show that five million kids are vaping regularly, up from 3.6 million last year — a 135% increase in two years. Almost 28% of high school kids are vaping. Last October, the U.S. Surgeon General and the former commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, called this an “epidemic.” But at five million kids, it is now a public health emergency!

Juul, the market leader, launched at the end of 2015 and directly targeted kids where they live: on social media, with slick ads featuring young beautiful models living an aspirational life. They used “influencers” to throw parties and feature Juul on their social media accounts. They attracted kids with fun, fruity dessert flavors: Mint, Creme Brûlée, Fruit Medley, Cool Cucumber. Kids were drawn in by the fun flavors and hooked by the high levels of nicotine contained in these products, a patented nicotine salt technology higher than any nicotine and any tobacco product previously.

What inspired you three to join forces to start Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes?

In late 2017, we became aware of the new trend among our sons and their friends: Juuling. We began to discuss this with each other and compare notes. The real catalyst, however, came in April 2018 when we discovered that Juul sent a representative into our son’s then-ninth grade class to talk to them about “addiction and mental health.”

This representative, while proclaiming they did not want kids as customers, called Juul “totally safe” and said it was about to get FDA approval. A total lie. Afterwards, when our sons went up to talk to this man about a “friend who was addicted to nicotine“ he pulled out his Juul, showed them how it worked, and called it the “iPhone of Vapes.” When we heard this, we knew we had to act!

We began speaking with doctors and educators, and by the fall of 2018 we were speaking in schools and advocating at legislative hearings to support e-cigarette regulation and banning of all e-cigarette flavors which are hooking our kids in record numbers. We spoke at the FDA and in different legislative hearings, and we finally told our story, about the Juul representative speaking to our kids, in Congress this summer.

Products like Juul and other e-cigarettes have gotten a lot of heat for not only targeting teens in marketing campaign, but also for advertising as safe alternative to cigarettes. Are these actually healthier? What’s the reality here?

There is no proof that e-cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes. There have been no long-term, longitudinal studies to prove this. There is also no proof that e-cigarettes are a cessation method for adult smokers. We do know that the chemicals in these devices, and the devices themselves have not yet been regulated by the FDA. Every day more evidence emerges that e-cigarettes cause cardiovascular damage, and possibly cancer.

However, we are talking about kids here. Kids brains continue to develop until the age of 25, as do their lungs. What HAS been proven is that nicotine is extremely harmful to the developing adolescent brain. Decades of research has proven that nicotine changes teens’ developing brain, affecting memory, mood, and impulse control. We hear stories of kids who have outbursts of extreme anger and are unable to concentrate in school. Nicotine, especially the extremely high levels of nicotine found in these devices, also rewires the brain for further addiction. These changes are irreversible and therefore any cigarette or e-cigarette product is extremely unsafe for kids.

What are the three key pieces of advice you give to other parents when it comes to teens and vaping?

It is important to keep an open dialogue with your kids and discuss things that are going on in their lives. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t be direct or confrontational: Instead of asking, “Are you vaping?”, ask them what is going on in school and among their friends. Ask about what they are hearing in the news and if they are concerned about the serious health ramifications of vaping and nicotine.
  • Be persistent: Keep talking. This isn’t a one time conversation. If you don’t get through at first, try again.
  • Be Calm: If you find out your child is vaping, stay calm. If you get upset, it is unlikely that your child will continue to confide in you.
  • Talk with other parents, educators and medical professionals: Gather as much information as possible. It’s important to understand what is happening in your community and in the medical world. Also, speak to a doctor — some kids might have underlying health or psychological issues which make treatment more difficult.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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