Health & Well-being

How to talk about: Vaping

Parenting Place talking about vaping

Like any tricky topic – and by ‘tricky’ I mean those topics that make kids the most curious and parents the most uncomfortable – vaping is best talked about openly, and it’s never too early to start the conversation.

Your younger kids will have no doubt noticed some curious wafts of vape clouds here and there, your older kids may have been more up close and personal. A 2021 report into vaping says that 20% of high school kids are vaping daily (ARFNZ/SPANZ). In contrast, the Nib annual State of the Nation Parenting Survey says that only 8% of parents know for sure their kids are vaping, and two thirds (67%) of parents are adamant that their secondary school-aged children don’t vape and have never vaped. Given this insight it would seem that this is indeed something we all need to talk about with our kids.

Vaping has certainly been a topic of conversation at our place, and I’d like to tell you I’ve offered wise and inspiring counsel. But more accurately, I’ve been dumbfounded and disappointed by the prevalence of vaping among my daughters’ peers, and deeply distressed on behalf of our young people. All the D words.

My colleague, who is a great deal cooler and more collected than me, has also had conversations with her kids about vaping and since she’s a child and family psychologist, I enquired as to her approach.

She guided the conversation with her kids to cover these three issues:

  1. What are some of the reasons why people might start vaping or smoking?
  2. What are some of the reasons why people might not be able to stop vaping or smoking?
  3.  What do you think are the costs of vaping and smoking? And are those costs just about money?

Afterwards, her smart and sensible kiddos agreed that vaping didn't sound that great. But in the bigger picture, she hoped the conversation had also helped them develop some empathy regarding why people might start and continue vaping (or smoking), while at the same time subtly instilling in them the belief that starting to vape would indeed be a pretty average idea.

And yes, she included smoking in the conversation because it is closely related to vaping. And since many of our young people regard smoking as bad for their health but vaping not so much, we might as well make the most of this moment to add some clarity.

We can help them our kids see some of the implications of addiction and develop some empathy for others, while at the same time equipping them with some healthy hesitancy of their own.

So basically, the power in honest and open conversations with our kids about vaping is that we can help them see some of the implications of addiction and develop some empathy for others, while at the same time equipping them with some healthy hesitancy of their own.

Here are some other tips for getting the conversation flowing:

Ask your kids what they know and what they think

Asking our kids what they already know about vaping is a great place to start. That way we can best pitch the conversation to their level.

We also honour our kids when we ask them what they think about an issue. When it comes to vaping, there are some misconceptions out there around the health risks. There’s also some mystery as research is still needed into the long-term effects. And then there’s the perception among a lot of teens that vaping is not really smoking (and therefore not a big deal), so you might find your young person has some thoughts about vaping that don’t quite line up with yours. Don’t panic! Hear your child out – really listen to what they have to say while extending empathy and grace, because this is uncharted territory and we’ve all got to learn together.

Less lecture, more listening

A good rule of thumb is talk less, listen more. Really hard when you just want to tell your kids what you think they should or shouldn’t do! Statements like the following can help show that we’ve prioritised listening. They can also validate our young person’s feelings, ideas and experiences, and ultimately keep the conversation moving – hopefully to a place where we can offer some guidance!

  • “This is a tough time to figure out what to do about vaping as there’s still lots we don’t know about the health issues…”

  • “It must be hard to see all your friends trying out vaping, and not really know how it will affect them…”

  • “Sorry to hear this is a big issue for you and your friends, it must be hard…”

A good rule of thumb is talk less, listen more. Really hard when you just want to tell your kids what you think they should or shouldn’t do!

What would you do if..?

The “What would you do if…” tool is super handy when talking to our kids about challenging situations. The beauty of a hypothetical "what if” is that it provides a safe place to problem solve and strategise in preparation for real-life moments.

  • “What would you do if your best mate offered you their vape as you walked home from school?”

  • “What would you do if all your friends hid in the bathroom to vape at lunch time?”

  • “What would you do if your friends bought vaping liquids at the dairy when you thought you were going in to buy mixed lollies?”

  • “What if your friend stashed their vape in your pencil case and your teacher found it?”

  • “What if your friend’s vape exploded in your pencil case and your whole bag smelt like bubble gum for weeks?” (I have no idea if this is a real risk or not, I’ll have to ask a young person.)

Knowledge is power

There’s a lot our kids don’t know about vaping, and there’s a lot many of us adults don’t know about it either (like can vapes explode in pencil cases?). That’s why open and non-judgemental conversation is so important. As we make ourselves available to our kids and keep the lines of communication open, we stand a good chance of empowering them. Knowledge is power for kids and young people. And so Is having a safe place to talk about any and all issues and a consistent connection with the grown-ups who unconditionally love them.

Here's what we do know...

  • Smoking e-cigarettes or vaping might be helpful for people who are trying to stop smoking, BUT, that doesn’t make vaping a good idea in general. While vaping products are less harmful than cigarettes, they’re definitely not good for us.

  • While not all vaping liquids contain nicotine, the vapour contains cytotoxic (which is harmful to cells) and carcinogenic chemicals that may pose long-term risks, especially to women who are pregnant.

  • As vaping is a relatively new thing, the long-term effects aren’t yet fully known. However, cases of lung injury and even deaths around the world have been linked to vaping. Plus there are known side effects to vaping including headaches, dry mouth or throat, throat or mouth irritation and eye irritation. But wait, there’s more. Vaping carries specific risks for adolescents as their brains and bodies are still developing. Vaping with nicotine has been associated with depression, ADHD and conduct disorders in adolescents, and nicotine exposure has been shown to impact learning and memory.

  • It’s illegal to sell vapes to under-18s. If somewhere is legislated as smoke-free, that means vaping is also banned.

Thanks to the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ for their Dec 2021 research into the area of teens and vaping. Their website Don't Get Sucked In is another helpful resource for teens and parents.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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