Teen Talk

Teen Talk: Parents’ hard line on e-cigarettes sparks rift

DEAR KELLY: My parents just found out I smoke e-cigarettes and they flipped out. They threatened to stop paying for my car insurance or give me anymore money whatsoever if I don’t quit.

What makes me mad is that e-cigs are not harmful or dangerous like regular cigarettes, so I feel like my parents are overreacting. My parents drink alcohol, and you don’t hear me telling my dad to not have a beer or my mom to not have a glass of wine. I had hid my pens from them because I knew they would react like this and, sure enough, they did.

My parents think that they know everything, but on this one they are completely wrong. I’m so frustrated because if this is how they react to e-cigs, how would they react if they ever found out I have tried smoking pot before but I didn’t like it, so I only did it a few times. I didn’t need them to tell me not to do it, I figured it out on my own.

How do I convince my parents that e-cigs are safe?


DEAR BROOKE: E-cigs are simply liquid nicotine and the easy answer about safety is that no nicotine-containing product is safe. It has been advertised as a smokeless cigarette, but it is an electronic device (battery operated) that turns liquid nicotine into vapor that is inhaled through the device. Many of the devices are made to resemble actual tobacco cigarettes but they do not produce the smoke connected with traditional cigarettes. The nicotine vapor looks and feels like cigarette smoke, but those smoking it have been led to believe it is harmless. Many physicians disagree.

E-cigs have been increasing in popularity with your generation. Manufacturers of e-cigs or vap pens target teenagers like you by producing e-juice (the liquid that is used in the device) in flavors such as Mountain Dew, Skittles, bubblegum, cotton cand, and cherry licorice. Other e-juice products have cocktail flavors.

Though e-cigs are advertised as safe and nonaddicting, many are questioning those claims, since there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation on them. In California, you have to be 18 to purchase an e-cig, but beyond that there is very little regulation.

Since e-cigs are too new for long-term data, we really don’t know their overall safety and if there are any long-term negative heath affects associated with them. One thing we do know is that people using e-cigs are still inhaling substances not meant to enter their lungs. Anything you put into your lungs may irritate or damage them, so while they may be “safer” than regular cigarettes, they are not completely harmless.

My point in telling you all of that is not to try to talk you out of smoking but rather to educate you more than perhaps your peers have. People will tell you e-cigs are much safer than traditional cigarettes or that they help people quit smoking, and I won’t argue with that. What I will point out is that the best and safest answer is to not smoke at all. If you don’t start, you won’t have to stop.

If you are saying that smoking e-cigs is less dangerous than regular cigarettes, I challenge you to look at your thought process and take notice of how you are rationalizing the lesser of two evils. How about instead of looking at which is worse for you, you think about if it is good for you at all.

Remember, while it may be less dangerous, it is still putting a foreign substance in your lungs, and that is not safe.

Your parent aren’t overreacting, they are acting with love and concern.

Threatening them with “if you tell me no it will just make me want to do it more” isn’t a good approach. That makes you look rebellious and defiant, even if you aren’t. It’s a bad way to start a conversation with them. Try a different approach and go talk with your parents with a willingness to hear their concerns and an open mind to how they feel. Perhaps you all do some Internet research together on the e-cigs and you share what you have learned about e-cigs so they can follow up and make sure you have your facts straight. The nicotine level is different with different e-liquids so be aware of the nicotine content every time you choose to smoke.

I agree with your parents that if they do not support your decision to smoke e-cigs, they should not have to fund your decision. Let them know that if you do smoke, you will use your own money to purchase your vap pens and e-juice. This might mean you get a job, but that is a decision you need to make regarding the importance of the e-cigs in your life.

Your goal should not be to change their minds but to open a conversation about what you are doing. Just as you want them to respect your decision to smoke, respect their concerns about your health and the safety of what you are doing. Respect their rules in their home and don’t smoke or bring your smoking equipment to their house.

While you may see this as a harmless thing to do with your friends right now, be careful that you aren’t setting up a lifelong nicotine habit.

Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.