Over a year ago, the Centers for Disease Control said that teen vaping is an “public health tragedy,” and the situation has only gotten worse. According to the annual National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than one in four high school students say they use e-cigarettes, and 27.5 percent reported using one in the last 30 days, up from 20.8 percent in 2018.
The CDC and Food and Drug Administration are working with e-cigarette manufacturers like Juul to curb teen use, and many states have raised the legal buying age to 21. But for parents worried about their kids right now — especially as many come home from college for Thanksgiving — they want to know how to spot e-cigarette use, and how to stop it.
The first step is determining whether your teen vapes. Dr. S. Christy Sadreameli, assistant professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at Johns Hopkins, suggests looking for a few signs. “Parents might notice a sweet smell, like fruit or bubblegum. And if their child is using a Juul, it’ll look like a USB device.” tells PEOPLE.
There are also a few physical characteristics of a vaping addiction. “Look out for signs of nicotine withdrawal if they’re in a place where they can’t use the product, like irritability and increased thirst,” she adds. “And teens may develop coughing, or shortness of breath. I’ve also heard of nosebleeds being a sign.”
“If I thought my child was vaping, I would ask her if her friends vape,” says Dr. Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, a pulmonary and critical care physician. “Generally speaking, if your child’s friends vape, they may have tried or are thinking about trying. Asking about friends also makes this situation nonthreatening to your own child.”
If the is answer yes, Dr. Rutland says he would would talk about the physical consequences of vaping, and even show them photos of a few of the teens who have landed in the hospital on ventilators, from vaping.
“When you vape, you are essentially inhaling dirty air which can lead to your cells in your lungs becoming irritated. I want my children to understand what can happen, what does happen and why. It is really hard these days convincing anyone of anything, so pictures and and excellent explanation help a lot.”
If your teen is vaping, the next step is helping them quit their nicotine addiction.
With adults, Dr. Sadreameli says she would typically recommend nicotine patches or lozenges. But for teens, she says parents should talk to their doctor: “A doctor can figure out an individualized approach rather than trying something on their own,” she says.