Contributed by: Monique Heath, LCMHC, LCAS

The temperatures are dropping, school is in session, the days are shorter, and the leaves are changing colors. These are all signs that fall is upon us. Much like this there are signs of all around promoting substance use. You can see the fluorescent wordings and colorful smoke shops everywhere that advertises tobacco and vapes. But do we really know the facts about tobacco and vapes. Let’s get into some facts about this trend that has drastically increased in the last decade. 

What are E-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).” E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid that usually contains nicotine (tobacco), flavorings, other cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals to produce aerosol in the air. Users inhale e-cigarette aerosol into their lungs.  The liquid used in e-cigarettes is often called “e-juice”, “e-liquid”, “vape juice” or “vape liquid”. E-cigarette devices can be used to deliver marijuana, CBD and other drugs. Using an e-cigarette is often called “vaping”. E cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes and most have a battery, a heating element and a place to hold liquid. Because of the different shapes and sizes, it can be difficult to spot. Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.

Signs of Nicotine (Tobacco) Use

  • You may find devices that look like flash (USB) drives, e-juice bottles, pods/cartridges (that contain e-juice) or product packaging. You may also find leaf marijuana, gel jars that contain highly concentrated marijuana extract (dabs), small tools to scoop dabs and cartridges that contain THC oil (a yellowish-brown substance) are signs of vaping marijuana.
  • Be on the lookout for purchases made online and unusual charges on credit cards or unusual packages that arrive in the mail which may contain vaping products. Products are also purchased at big box stores, gas stations or from other friends.
  • While the smell from vaping is not as obvious, you may catch a whiff. For example, if you smell chocolate cake when you aren’t baking anything, this may be a flavored nicotine vape. Marijuana vapes can produce a skunk-like smell.
  • Some of the chemicals used in “e-juices” dry out the mouth and nose.
  • Teens and young adults often brag about vaping on social media. Look for pictures or references on their Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter and other social media accounts. Take note of popular vaping terms in their online searches.
  • You may see vaping slang in text messages such as “atty” for an atomizer, “VG” for vegetable glycerin found in e-juice or “sauce” referring to e-juice. Getting “nicked” refers to the euphoria experienced with high doses of nicotine. Feeling “nic sick” refers to heart palpitations, nausea/vomiting or lightheadedness associated with the overuse of nicotine vapes.
  • Use may lead to anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating and loss of appetite. Vaping marijuana can result in bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and thirst, increased appetite and shifts in behavior and mood. Sometimes, there is a noticeable change in friends and a decrease in activities that they once enjoyed.
  • Physical side effects of may include trouble breathing, headaches, cough, dizziness, sore throat, chest pain and allergic reactions such as itchiness or swelling of the lips. More severe effects include worsening of asthma symptoms.

The Impact of Nicotine (Tobacco) Use

  • The brain continues to develop until about age 25. Using nicotine harms the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.  Each time a new memory is created, or a new skill is learned, stronger connections (synapses) are built between brain cells. Teens and young adults’ brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine use changes the way these synapses are formed.
  • Tobacco harms every organ in your body. Smoking tobacco products can cause lung, mouth, stomach, kidney, and bladder cancers. It can also cause lung problems, chronic cough, heart disease, eye problems, gum disease and yellow teeth.
  • Tobacco use increases symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mood/ mental health disorders. It can also lead to Nicotine addiction.

Treatment for Nicotine (Tobacco) Use

Overcoming Nicotine abuse requires treatment. The proper treatment can help your child develop the coping skills necessary to end a vicious cycle of addiction.  The most effective treatment approaches include the following:

Please note that treatment can include a combination of the above as well as individual, group and/or family counseling.

To learn more about the above treatment approaches and diagnosis of tobacco/ nicotine use disorder, please consult with a mental health professional and primary care provider.

How can you help your child?

Watching your child struggle with symptoms of nicotine use can be stressful and challenging. The four E’s are things you can do to support your child.

Encourage- Encourage your child to talk, by providing ongoing opportunities to talk about nicotine (tobacco) use. Keep in mind they may not want to talk but simply spending one-on-one time together can help your child feel safe and encouraged.

Expectations- Set expectations. Talking about nicotine (tobacco) use may be embarrassing, awkward and difficult. Set expectations for your child by communicating clear boundaries, practicing/role-playing resistance skills and modeling behavior by not smoking.

Expose-Expose honesty, openness, and transparency. Don’t pretend like you know everything, ask questions and let your child know when you don’t know or understand. Be honest with your child. Of course, information will be age appropriate but it very important to be honest and open.

Educate-Educate yourself about nicotine (tobacco) so you can educate your child. The more you know, the better you can assist your child with what they need. Knowing the facts about nicotine ( tobacco) and the updated trends can help your child understand long term effects and validate their experience of pressures.

Facts: Did you Know?

Teens are at high risk for nicotine addiction. According to the Substance abuse and mental health services administration, in 2020, 20.7% of people aged 12 or older (or 57.3 million people) used nicotine products (i.e., used tobacco products or vaped nicotine) in a month. Among past month users of nicotine products, nearly two thirds of adolescents aged 12 to 17 (63.1%) vaped nicotine.  Data from the 2019 NSDUH reports that 58.1 million people were current (i.e., past month) tobacco users. Specifically, 45.9 million people aged 12 or older in 2019 were past month cigarette smokers (2019 NSDUH).  According to the CDC, smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States and more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking nicotine/tobacco. Tobacco/nicotine use is the leading cause of preventable death and if not treated use can lead to addiction and severe long-term health effects.