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Experts Provide Vital Information to Parents About Vaping

vapingInformation about vaping related illnesses and vaping related deaths has been all over the news in recent months. Much of this information is scary and sometimes overwhelming to try to decipher. As parents we are often left wondering what we can do to help our children make the right choices in the face of such information.

Fortunately, on Tuesday November 12 the Scarsdale PTC, SHS PTA and SMS PTA presented an informative program titled Teen Vaping: Perceptions, Realities and Prevention aimed at informing and empowering parents in Scarsdale. The program headliners included two experts; Dr. Richard Stumacher Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Division at Northern Westchester Hospital and Dr. Paul Donahue, a clinical psychologist and director of Child Development Associates in Scarsdale. The presentations by these two doctors were followed by a moderated Q and A session with a panel which included representatives from SHS, Assistant Principal Chris Griffin, from SMS health teacher Michelle Gould, and SFCS counselor and board member of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force, Emily Vallario.

Dr. Stumacher began with a presentation focused on the basic facts of vaping in addition to how vaping nicotine can affect our bodies. Below are some of the facts highlighted by Dr. Stumacher:

-An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette/Juul) is a device that heats a nicotine solution to create an aerosol for inhalation. Unlike a cigarette that uses combustion to burn the tobacco and turn it into smoke, e-cigarettes heat up liquid/wax/leaf and turn it into vapor.

-Misinformation helped make vaping mainstream and as popular as it is today. A British study was published stating that e-cigarettes are around 95% safer than smoked tobacco and they can help smokers quit. While e-cigarettes may be “safer” than traditional cigarettes, Dr. Stumacher argues that “safe” is a relative word and that e-cigs can still be harmful. And while e-cigarettes can help some people who are already addicted, to quit smoking, “among youth- who use e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults do- there is evidence that e-cigarettes increase the risk of transitioning to smoking conventional cigarettes.”

-The long-term effects of vaping are not yet clear.

-While e-cigarettes may contain fewer numbers and lower levels of toxic substances than traditional cigarettes, there are 42 chemicals identified in electronic cigarettes including Formaldehyde, Lead, and Phenol.

-The flavorants in e-cigs such as Diacetyl are deemed “Safe for Food Consumption” but do we know if they are safe for inhaling into our lungs?
-E-cigarettes also contain nicotine. Juul products contain double the amount of nicotine than other e-cigarettes. Juul is getting kids addicted so they will have life-long consumers of their products.
-Nicotine is highly addictive, even more addictive than heroin or cocaine. 80% of young people who try 2 cigarettes or more go on to battle a life-time addiction.

-Nicotine is so addictive because it reaches the brain in only a few seconds and starts a series of reactions that cause the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that gives the feeling of calm and pleasure. If you haven’t smoked for a while your dopamine levels start to lessen and can cause you to start to feel agitated and grumpy, which in turn causes your brain to crave more dopamine.

-Nicotine has adverse effects on a developing brain. Nicotine can disrupt the growth of brain circuits that control attention, learning, and susceptibility to addiction. Nicotine use while the brain is developing can also lead to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, cognitive impairment and attention deficit.
-Youth vaping has soared over the last two years. Nearly 1 in 3 12th graders reported using an e-cigarette.

-Research is linking vaping related illnesses to one bad batch involving THC, but there are still too many unknowns. Dr. Stumacher recommends to stop vaping THC immediately.

- Dr. Stumacher just treated his 10th patient with a vaping related illness at his small Northern Westchester Hospital on Mt. Kisco. Patients ages ranged from 16-28. This is happening in our area.

-As of November 5, 2019, there have been 39 vaping related deaths in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Among the 1,378 patients being treated for vaping related illness, 70% are male.

During the next segment of the program we heard from Dr. Paul Donahue who focused on the reasons teens might be attracted to vaping and what parents can do to prevent teens from vaping. In his lecture, Dr, Donahue explained that there are three main reasons teens find vaping appealing; to fit in socially, relieve stress, and for the thrill of keeping secrets/risk taking.

Socially kids want to fit in and are anxious to belong to a group. If seen as “cool” vaping can seem like an easy way to feel included.

With the chemical release of dopamine, vaping provides a momentary relief from stress, a momentary escape.

As Dr. Donahue explains, the teenage brain is built to be impulsive and to take risks and since there is a perception that vaping is less damaging than traditional smoking, it can seem like a safer risk to take.

There is also a thrill in using vaping products right under the noses of parents and adults. Since there is little odor or other overt signs, teens can vape in their rooms, in the basement, and in the bathrooms at school. They can hide their small vaping devices in their socks, in their pockets, in shirt sleeves and more.

Dr. Donahue then went on to describe several ways in which parents can talk to their kids about vaping.

-Dr. Donahue suggests having open discussions and communication about vaping and how dangerous it can be. No age is too young to talk about making healthy choices and to admonish vaping as unhealthy, but discussions should be tailored to your child’s age and readiness to learn about the subject. Older kids should learn about all the harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes and how nicotine affects your brain and body. Try to avoid lecturing and instead keep the discussion short and sweet, maybe only a couple of minutes long.

-Respect your children and listen to them. Hear what questions they might have and what they might say about vaping without judgement.

-Set and communicate clear limits and expectations about vaping. Especially with young teens it is important to communicate that vaping is not safe and will not be tolerated. Let them know that you will be making “checks.” With older teens, try not to double down on them but rather trust that they will make good choices. If you find your child is vaping, try to approach them with empathy and compassion. Support your child as a family and seek counseling/treatment as a family.

-Find other ways to socialize. Joining team sports or clubs such as drama or debate helps kids socialize in healthy ways and keeps them active and busy.

-Help kids manage stress. Let kids play and have fun. Laugh together as a family and find ways to spend quality time together.

-Isolation is a strong cause of depression which can lead to vaping. Ask kids to spend less time in their rooms and more time in shared spaces. Take an interest in what they are interested in (even if you find it uninteresting!). Ask them about their interests over meals together.

The informative evening was concluded with a Q and A. A few of the questions really stood out:

First, one parent asked, “What are our schools doing about vaping?”

SHS Assistant Principal Chris Griffen responded first and went on to explain that they take a multi-pronged approach including punitive actions for violating the school’s code of conduct. However these actions are usually limited, after negotiations with parents, to one day of suspension and counseling with one of the counselors at school. Mr. Griffen stressed that the objective is to help the student quit vaping and to support them through that process. In conjunction with the idea of supporting the student, Mr. Griffen described a vaping cessation program that is being piloted at the highschool. Mr. Griffen also espoused the preventative actions they take at the high school including educational programming delivered in health classes and in gym.

Ms. Gould a health teacher at SMS also stressed the preventative measures taken at the middle school which include a series of speakers (including Dr. Stumacher), education in health classes, and work on and role playing with “refusal skills”.

Another asked, “What behavioral signals can parents and educators look for?”

Emily Vallario, counselor at SFCS encouraged parents to trust your gut, if you think something is wrong it is likely that it is. She also encourages parents to watch for changes in behavior, noticing if your kids become more secretive or more concerned with discovery. Furthermore, parents should take heed of their kids excusing themselves to go to the bathroom or private spaces more often. Lastly, Ms. Vallario explained that teens get crafty with how they purchase vaping products and will often use gift cards to buy items online and have them delivered directly to the house. Ms. Vallario recommends that parents check any packages addressed to your children and to not be afraid of unexpectedly “checking in on your child” when they are in their rooms.

For more information from Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services and The Drug and Alcohol Task Force (DATF) please click here

The vaping infographic below was supplied by White Plains Hospital:



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