Cigarette smoking has decreased in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “cigarette smoking among U.S. adults (aged ≥18 years) declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.5 percent in 2016.” Further information on adolescents’ tobacco use from the CDC states that “[d]uring 2019-2020, current use of any tobacco product, any combustible tobacco product, multiple tobacco products, e-cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco among middle and high school students decreased.”
While the use of all tobacco products seems to be trending downward, parents may wonder if one product is safer than others. Are all tobacco products bad for long-term health, or can some be safer alternatives? With vaping or e-cigarettes trending, are they safer than smoking cigarettes?
Basics of Harm Reduction
Questions like these are essential for parents to consider for harm reduction of tobacco use. Harm reduction techniques are about decreasing the negative impacts of unsafe behavior. Rather than using an all-or-nothing approach to quitting a bad habit like smoking, harm reduction recognizes that sometimes, abstinence-only options for those addicted to cigarettes are often met with resistance. If we tell our child, “You must quit smoking right now,” they may shut down from the conversation entirely.
Instead, with harm reduction, we might start to look at taking a step down from harmful behaviors to an alternative that is not ideal but still better than nothing. For example, if a teenager smokes a pack of cigarettes every day, an all-or-nothing approach to quitting is simply that—quit smoking immediately!
However, harm reduction gives us a few options to meet our teenager halfway. Examples can include:
- Smoking fewer cigarettes per day, like a reduction from a whole to half a pack.
- Setting a limit to only continue the current amount of cigarettes smoked daily to prevent the habit from getting even worse.
- Exploring alternatives to smoking, like vaping or smokeless tobacco products.
Harm reduction is ultimately about trending toward abstinence of harmful behavior, yet realizing that even a slight change is better than none at all. Parents can remember to be honest and truthful with their kids about the risks of behaviors like tobacco use. When we use scare tactics, warning of extreme dangers of a behavior, kids might be less receptive to our lectures. They might not learn anything except how to hide the behavior better.
Sharing the Truth About Vaping with Kids
Since vaping is relatively new compared to cigarettes and other tobacco products, long-term effects are not well-known. However, nearly every type of tobacco product is harmful to our long-term health, primarily due to additional chemicals in these products. Vaping is not necessarily free from harmful additives.
Ultimately, teens will respond best from an open and honest discussion about the use of these products. The CDC and the Surgeon General have facts and tips for parents regarding the use of e-cigarettes in teens. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center co-founder Aaron Huey and psychologist John De Miranda talk about vaping and smoking on the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast “Killing the Dragon.”
Researching information about vaping can help arm us with the truth about these products. When we come to our kids with the truth about any potentially harmful behavior, we can open the door to discussions about their actions. As parents, we can set limits and boundaries; however, we cannot be around our kids 24 hours per day. We might also consider why kids use tobacco in the first place to think of alternatives or preventative measures.
Why Do Kids Use Tobacco?
Kids may use tobacco for various reasons. As parents, we might be alarmed or shocked discovering that our kids use tobacco—whether cigarettes, vaping, or other products. We might have talked to them about the dangers of these substances—and they used them anyway! Remember that we were once their age and most likely engaged in behaviors that our parents warned us about. Rather than jumping into lecture-mode, take a step back, and ask your kid why they use these products. Peer pressure is one of the most common reasons kids use tobacco products.
Kids take risks they otherwise would not indulge in when they want to fit in or feel accepted. We can teach our kids about setting boundaries and saying no. We can also introduce them to healthy activities to meet new people and foster friendships. If kids feel like they belong to a “tribe” or group, they might be less inclined to engage in risky behaviors just to fit in.
Many children want or seek connection and friendships. If we encourage our kids to socialize by participating in sports, running, clubs, hobbies, academics, outdoors, or other activities, they might feel more empowered to say no to vaping and other tobacco products.
Vaping is a popular topic among teen behavior. Kids seem to be using vape pens and e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Some teens use vaping to quit smoking; however, is vaping a step-down from smoking or just another harmful behavior? Due to the relatively recent emergence and popularity of vaping, we know less about the potential long-term harm of vaping than other tobacco products. The best that we can do as parents is to have open and honest discussions with our kids regarding our concerns. Often, kids may feel pressured to use these products to fit in with their peers. Kids struggling with emotional and behavioral issues might have a more difficult time socializing than their peers. When these underlying issues are ignored, kids might not have the skills or the self-esteem to set healthy boundaries. If your child struggles with challenging emotional issues, like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or other problematic behaviors, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.