Clearing the smoke screen

Your teenager has a new habit – e-cigarettes. Over the past few years, a new generation of American teens has taken up these battery-powered smoking devices who see them as fashionable accessories and a clean, “safe” way to indulge in a grown-up habit. Are e-cigarettes a harmless fun fad or a teen health risk?

E-cigarettes don’t fill the lungs with harmful smoke, but that doesn’t make them a healthy substitute to regular cigarettes. They use cartridges with a liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. A heating device in the e-cigarette converts the liquid into a vapor, which is inhaled.

Sarah Garwood, MD, pediatric and adolescent medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital says, “E-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to smoking, nor are they risk-free. Teens who use e-cigarettes are vulnerable to becoming dependent on nicotine-containing products, including conventional cigarettes.”

Before talking with your child about the potential harms of e-cigarettes, here are some important facts:

When your child says:
“I’m not smoking — e-cigarettes make water vapor.”

You can say:
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine in every puff.

One e-cigarette may have as much nicotine as an entire pack of conventional cigarettes.

When your child says:
“Nicotine does not cause lung cancer – smoke does.”

You can say:
Nicotine is a highly addictive drug.

Nicotine is poisonous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of liquid nicotine-related calls to poison control centers has jumped dramatically in recent years.

When your child says:

“I’m using nicotine-free cartridges.”

You can say:

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found nicotine in “nicotine-free” cartridges.

The FDA found toxic chemicals and carcinogens in e-cigarettes it has tested.

Concerned about your teen’s e-cigarette use? For more tips, contact the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center at 314-454-2350. The Family Resource Center is located at One Children’s Place, Room 3S-12, St. Louis, MO 63110.