CHAMPAIGN — It’s popular, easy to conceal and available in fruit and dessert flavors.
But parents be warned, vaping isn’t the harmless practice many kids and teens think it is, said Matthew Quinn, community-relations coordinator with the substance-abuse and mental-health treatment agency Rosecrance.
“The term vaping itself is so misleading, because it makes kids think of vapor,” he said.
Vaping is more like breathing in aerosol than vapor, Quinn said. And it can deliver not only a powerful punch of addictive nicotine but such chemical ingredients as formaldehyde, heavy metals and the solvent propylene glycol.
One 5-percent-strength Juul pod alone is designed to replace the nicotine strength of a full pack of cigarettes, according to the manufacturer’s website.
Quinn said he has seen declining memory and school performance — as well as other signs of brain-function effects — in kids and teens who vape. Though, he also said, “I’d say the lungs get hit just as hard.”
“A lot of kids are jumping into this blindly,” he said.
Vaping has risen dramatically in a single year alone, with about 37 percent of high school seniors reporting they had vaped at least sometime in the past 12 months compared to about 28 percent the previous year, according to a government-funded survey done by the University of Michigan and published last year.
Quinn blames the rising popularity of vaping on youth-targeted marketing and how easy vaping is for kids and teens to conceal. A Juul looks just like a flash drive and can be charged on a computer.
“It’s so small, kids can just tuck it into their sleeves,” he said.
Vaping also doesn’t produce a big cloud of smoke, Quinn said.
“It’s very discrete,” he said. “Kids just blow them down their sleeves.”
Dozens of young people who reported vaping have been hospitalized recently for respiratory distress. Those cases are still being investigated, but the Office of the Surgeon General has already warned that vaping poses a significant health risk to young people — including a higher risk for both addiction and long-term harm to brain development and lung health.
Quinn considers the big elephant in the room in Illinois to be the legalization of recreational marijuana come Jan. 1 — combined with the growing popularity of marijuana vaping.
While the age limit of 21 to buy both tobacco and marijuana products in the state may be a deterrent to law-abiding kids, there are still plenty of others who will be able to access their parents’ supply of marijuana or buy it illegally, Quinn said.
“There’s just going to be more of it out there,” he said.
Keep in mind that 80 percent of kids who experiment with alcohol get liquor from their parents’ unsecured supply, or those of their friends’ parents, Quinn said.
It’s critical that parents be aware that today’s marijuana is seven to 10 times more potent than the pot that was around when they were younger, he said.
“Think of the potential issues that are going to come up with that, kids who are going to get hooked on it, because it’s so much stronger,” he said.
More advice to parents from Quinn:
— It’s not necessarily going to be obvious if your kids are vaping, so trust your gut when it’s telling you something is wrong.
— Don’t be afraid to check your kids’ rooms and phones for signs that they’re vaping. Along the same lines, be aware of how your kids are spending their pocket money.
“Parents these days are a little caught up in their kids’ privacy,” Quinn said.
— Be aware that some kids start vaping because they feel socially inadequate and want to fit in, so finding ways to build them up may help. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and for some kids, it takes guidelines, accountability and some consequences.
— Be prepared for a challenge if you want to help your kids quit vaping. The same interventions that help people quit smoking can help with quitting nicotine vaping, but motivation counts in kicking the habit. And your kid may not want to quit.