A family friend, Shaelynn, grew up around nicotine. Her mom smoked cigarettes and later vaped. Her older sisters eventually took up the habit. Then, one night when she was 13 or 14, the youngest girl in the family stayed up later than her mom.
“The vape was just sitting there,” she said. “I tried it and liked it.”
Shaelynn’s mom soon realized her youngest child was stealing puffs from her vape and from then on, she took it upstairs with her every night. So Shaelynn talked with one of her friends’ older siblings, who bought a vape for her.
Within a year, all of her friends were vaping.
“Usually, the parents wouldn’t know we had vapes,” she said.
They didn’t vape at home. They vaped outside. And the girls puffed in the locker room at school, where they knew the male PE teacher wouldn’t venture. She acknowledges she wasn’t running with the best group of friends at that point, but says students from every socio-economic background were doing it.
She thinks “the majority” of kids at her school had tried vaping and that about 25 percent of them smoked regularly. She went to an excellent suburban school in another state.
The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey echoed Shaelynn’s observations. It indicated that about half of Colorado high school students have tried vaping nicotine. Only 7 percent of high school students said they smoke traditional cigarettes, yet 27 percent said they vape nicotine.
“I think that with the whole vaping, kids do it a lot because they feel peer pressure,” Shaelynn said. Plus, “It smells better (than cigarettes). It’s easier to hide. Your parents think it’s perfume or something.”
The Evolution of Vaping
When her mom started vaping, it was to try to quit smoking cigarettes. The nicotine was supposed to be lower and word on the street was that there weren’t as many toxins. The market evolved as different flavors and higher levels of nicotine flooded out.
Kids liked the variety as much as adults did. Maybe even more.
Mango. Pineapple. Peppermint.
Shaelynn’s “Security Blanket”
Her mom knew Shaelynn was vaping. She didn’t condone it, but didn’t try to confiscate the e-cigarette.
“I think she knew if she told me ‘no’ or took my vape away, I would just go and get another one,” Shaelynn said. “I thought it was cool because everyone was doing it.”
Bit by bit, she vaped more. When she was stressed, she would go to her room and vape. It became a comfortable and calming habit. It was always available. The juice was easy to get.
She would tell herself she was going to quit, then she would get mad and grab her vape. “I think my vape was kind of like a security blanket for me. It wasn’t judging me. It wasn’t telling me I was doing anything wrong.”
Eventually, Shaelynn moved to Colorado to live with relatives and work on her academics and confidence, both of which had started to slide. Her parents filled a backpack, woke her before dawn one day and put her on a plane.
The Wake-Up Call
She hadn’t realized how addicted she was to nicotine until she noticed her vape wasn’t in that backpack. Or the one they sent later that week.
“It was difficult for me,” she said. “There were times when I was ok. But other times, I was going insane about it. … It wasn’t like I would do anything to get a vape. But I realized maybe this was a sign that I needed to stop. … I didn’t even realize how bad it had really gotten.”
It’s been over a year and she says she’ll never smoke again. “Before, my skin complexion was very bad. My hair was very thin. I was very skinny. It kind of looked like I was high all the time. But I wasn’t. It was just from the nicotine.”
And now, she knows the long-term dangers for her lungs, brain and the rest of her body. She recognizes that it’s not a “healthy alternative” to smoking cigarettes. As a recovering vaper, she has a few thoughts.
“I’d say if you’re thinking about vaping, don’t do it,” she said. “It’s not cool. You’re just hurting your body.”
And it can hurt your relationships with family, friends and significant others, she added.
Alternatives for teens who are feeling stressed? “Try to talk to someone. Or journal. It doesn’t have to be in a journal. Just grab a piece of paper. I think journaling can really help a lot of people.”
It helped her immensely to write down what she was thinking and feeling.
“Don’t feel like you’re alone. There’s at least one person who cares about you.”
Talk to your kids early and often from a young age. Have the easy conversations and the tough ones, so that when issues like e-cigarettes arise, there are open lines of communication.
“Parents shouldn’t hound on their kids about it,” she said. “That’s just going to make them rebel more. That’s going to push you further away from them. Truly, there could be something wrong with them. … I think parents should really sit down and have a talk with their kid. Get down and say, ‘What’s up? What’s going on? Why do you feel that you need to vape?’”
If at first the child doesn’t open up, keep at it. Try to meet her in the middle. Give him space to trust talking with you.
While Shaelynn acknowledges that parents have every right to be concerned and upset if their teenager is vaping, freaking out may do more harm than good.
“When you tell a teenager no, they’re going to go do it anyway.”
One last point from the lovely Shaelynn. Peer pressure goes both ways. It’s not just someone pressuring you into smoking. It’s also pressuring your friends into studying with you. Getting an A with you. Not smoking with you.
Lean into the friends that pressure you into being your best self.
As for those “friends” who say, “Just take one hit. One hit?”
“They’re not your friends, if they’re doing that.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has created a suite of materials to help parents and askable adults understand the risks of vaping, and prepare them to have informed conversations with teens about it.
The materials are available on the new Tobacco Free Colorado website at www.TobaccoFreeCO.org/know-the-facts.
- Frequently Asked Questions for Parents and Adults Who Work with Youth
- Tip Sheet: Talking to Youth
- Fact Sheet: Myths vs. Facts
- Fact Sheet: Vaping 101