Vaping Addiction In Teenagers
February 11, 2020
Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program, we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields, and help navigate the road to recovery.
Now, here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.
Zach: Hi. I’m Zach Crouch and you’re listening to Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. You can find us online wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe to get the most up-to-date information from leading experts.
In this episode we’ll be talking about parents or to be more specific, parenting. We’ll explore what to do when you find yourself unsure how to tackle the issues today’s children are facing.
We have guests, Michelle Newton Massey and Mary Beth Uberti joining us today to talk about the important work that they do at Operation Parent. I just want to say welcome to the show to the both of you. We’re so grateful to have you on speaking with us today.
Mary Beth: Thanks. Thank you for having us here.
Michelle: Thanks, Zach.
Zach: Thank you. Michelle and Mary Beth, for those who don’t know about what Operation Parent is, what is it and what do each of you do?
Mary Beth: Operation Parent has been around for 11 years and our focus is to provide resources, education, and support to those raising pre-teens and teens, anyone who is a parent, a caregiver, foster care parents. We also do a lot of work with Drugs and Alcohol Coalitions, Drug and Alcohol-Free Coalitions around the country providing education and information to them.
We really just want to focus on providing information that a parent and caregiver needs to understand what and then bring up these topics with their kids so that both become educated, not just the parent but the child also.
Zach: Absolutely. Michelle, anything that you’d like to add to that?
Michelle: Just our webinar program is one thing that I focus on for the organization and that has continued to grow over the last three years.
Michelle: In that effort we reach out to Drug-Free Coalition parents, educators, social workers. We’ve got focused at work with foster care and casa. You name it, it’s a diverse population. We get an opportunity to get some information out there on the series of topics that our teens are facing and our parents are looking for good information on.
Zach: Fantastic. What brought you both into this line of work?
Mary Beth: For me, I was a parent. We used to have classes called Parenting 101 and when my daughter entered middle school, I went to a class. What it was, was a way for me to meet other parents and then just to become informed.
Mary Beth: It really was focusing on the roles of parents, the role of parents to educate, to set the boundaries, not be afraid of setting the boundaries, and consequences, having understand warning signs.
I quickly then met Jean, the founder Jean Schumm not too long after that and then just went and started working for the organization, just doing whatever we needed because at that point, it was very small. We have a Parent Handbook that has been, now we’re working on our eighth edition, that covers for the middle and high school about 40 topics related to parenting. I came in eventually as a Program Developer. I’m Director of Program Development.
Mary Beth: Part of my job also is to go out in communities. I do presentations throughout Kentucky, United States. I travel and just talking about anything from social media, drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, things with the…keeping in mind the heart of a parent and talking parent-to-parent. I’ve just stayed here since then.
Zach: Michelle, what about you? How did you get into this line of work?
Michelle: Absolutely. I came in with a background of 20 years in student affairs or higher ed administration, as some of us call it. In my position in campus housing, I would work with students that were having mental health issues and needed to get to the counselling center or very low coping skills based on a struggle that they encountered in college or maybe some poor decision-making around drugs and alcohol where they broke some of the rules and regulations within the residence or community.
On the flipside, I would see students who were just thriving on a college campus, who are really making good decisions to either stay alcohol and drug-free, being resilient when they battle through tough things or persisting to graduation even though they did have challenges. Through all that I sort of recognized we need to get to teens earlier to ramp up their decision-making around drugs and alcohol and their coping skills.
Michelle: An opportunity to partner up with Operation Parent came on board and I jumped on that. I feel really passionate about working with teens because I have two teens of my own.
Michelle: I’ve got two nieces. I see their tribe of friends. I just want to get good information for myself, but also for others.
Zach: Absolutely. It sounds to me like both of you have an underlying passion for this work that probably fuels you day-to-day, if I have to take a guess. That’s a big piece of this I’m sure.
Michelle: Absolutely, yes.
Zach: With that being said, I want to focus or shift. I want to shift our focus, rather to the topic of today which is the whole issue around vaping. That’s in the news a lot now especially its focus on teens and their use of vaping devices. You guys are in front of this stuff all the time. How has vaping changed the face of addiction for today’s teens?
Mary Beth: For a lot of our youth, if we’re focusing on the e-cig issue, we taught them really well to stay away from traditional cigarettes. They have all kinds of classes inside the school, but when e-cigarettes came out on to the market it kind of took everybody’s surprise that teens latched on to it. When they did latch on to it, what they’ve done for most of them without even realizing is they became addicted to nicotine. They didn’t quite understand that what they were doing was inhaling nicotine.
Mary Beth: With an adolescent brain, their chances of addiction are higher just because it’s a growing brain. It’s a changing brain. That changed the whole focus of what was happening. They are still using marijuana and alcohol. That is still the most commonly abused substance, but within the tobacco world, it far surpassed traditional cigarettes with our use so about one in five high school students are vaping and one in 20 middle school students are vaping.
That’s an interchangeable word with vaping and e-cigs. We’ll talk about that later.
Mary Beth: That is what has happened. Schools were sounding the alarm first because they were seeing it in schools, kids getting in trouble with it, sharing them, and everything just started ramping up very quickly. It just became an issue that I don’t think most people realize that it was even an issue until the schools were raising alarms, that, “Hey, there is something happening here.”
Zach: Right, right. It begs the question on my end if the teen vapes are they more likely to progress to other drugs or different types of tobacco even?
Mary Beth: What we do know is when a teen is using e-cigarettes so they’ve become addicted to nicotine. It’s a nicotine addiction. They need the nicotine otherwise, they feel sick. That’s the way it works. These packs, depending on what product they’re using is going to get harder and harder for them to get a hold of them.
Right now in the state of Kentucky at least they’ve raised the age to 21. Online, for some of the East companies, they’ve made it harder for teens to get a hold of it now.
Mary Beth: Obviously, when you want it you can get it. Get somebody older to buy for you, everything else. If it’s going to be harder for them to get a hold of it, what they’ll do, what they have seen is then enable transition to use traditional cigarettes, which is the complete opposite of what the intention was when e-cigarettes came out. It was meant for adult smokers to leave traditional cigarettes and have a safer alternative to get their nicotine.
Mary Beth: Now we have the opposite that’s happening. We are seeing kids become addicted to e-cigarettes and then make the transition over to do traditional cigarettes with all the harms that come with it: the tar, the lung issue.
Mary Beth: Now we are seeing more issues now with e-cigarettes.
Zach: I’ve heard this tossed around before. Maybe you’ve heard of it. This idea of popcorn lung, have you all heard of this?
Mary Beth: Yes.
Zach: What is this exactly and how does it relate to vaping?
Mary Beth: Some of the products that they use to create the liquids, to hold the flavouring, one of them is like, if I mess this up, it’s propylene glycol.
Mary Beth: It’s a flavoring that is what they’re putting in the pods to help with the flavoring because they are sweet flavors, most of them. The FDA has approved it for ingestion. There is for eating. You might see it in food products, but it was never intended for breathing into the lungs.
Mary Beth: When it gets into the lungs, it’s actually coating the lungs. A word came out with the word “popcorn lungs” was, I don’t know how many years ago, the factories were making the popcorn that you put in your microwave. They would use that by-product to make their product, to keep the flavoring. People who were working there were inhaling it because they were working with it.
Mary Beth: They were coming up with problems with their lungs. Lo and behold, that’s the name for “popcorn lungs” is they had this issue with their lungs, with the coating in their lungs. It’s almost like a film, a coating the inside a lung and the lung doesn’t work properly. That’s where it comes from.
Zach: Now that we’re on that topic of obviously having problems with the lungs, what else about vaping is not safe?
Mary Beth: Okay. Michelle, do you want to?
Michelle: I was thinking not on the safety note yet, but I was thinking about the marketing. When you look at the marketing, it went directly to teens in terms of the flavors. If you Google and look up YouTube videos, you’ll see videos of folks making smoke rings with the e-cigs and all these fancy, cool, cool things.
Zach: Right, right.
Michelle: The flavors, there’s not any adult person who is probably going to go after like the unicorn breath flavor.
Michelle: When you look at all that, you look at where it’s placed in stores that it was directly marketed purposely to teens.
Michelle: That’s frightening to me.
Zach: There are major lawsuits going on right now if I’m not mistaken. Right, Michelle?
Michelle: Correct. Yes.
Zach: Yes. Okay.
Mary Beth: You were also asking what is not safe about the product.
Mary Beth: What we keep in mind is call it vaping, but they’re not vaping. They are actually inhaling and creating an aerosol. Vape is just water vapor. That’s kind of another illusion with it.
Mary Beth: People say, “I’m vaping,” but you’re really not. You’re really creating an aerosol. An aerosol contains other products in the air with that smoke that comes out. You can have ultra-fine particles, other cancer-causing chemicals. Heavy metals can be contained in it: nicopson and lead.
Mary Beth: The term…
Zach: Did you say lead? There’s lead in this stuff?
Mary Beth: It can be. Yes. Here’s the other thing. What’s advertised for what is in those pods, they’ll say it contains nicotine. JUUL, right on this packaging says it contains nicotine. Most kids if you ask them, majority of them will say it doesn’t, but actually it’s right on the packaging. It contains nicotine.
Mary Beth: They’ll say it contains something to create the flavoring and to create the plume. There are all different products out there and not all of them are telling you exactly what’s in their liquids.
Mary Beth: You have other off-brands or black market brands. They can put whatever they are in them and nobody really knows how or what is in some of these products and how it can affect the person, as you mentioned. We see that in the kids that are landing in the hospital, teenagers, young adults. There’s a whole another level to this where a big number of those people that are ill were, I’ll say the word vaping again, but they were using THC to get a high.
Zach: Right, right.
Mary Beth: They now do know that the product, the liquid has another product in there like a vitamin E by-product.
Zach: Some sort of stabilizer or something, I guess.
Mary Beth: Right, to stabilize it.
Mary Beth: That’s really what’s been causing…now there are people that have been hospitalized that have been strictly using e-cigarettes who are sick. There is a kind of a two-tiered thing going on here. Part of it is we don’t know long-term ramifications. We’re now seeing some of it. The dangers for our use beyond addiction is getting sick and landing in the hospital.
Mary Beth: The whole thing where they just don’t know how to help the people that are in the hospital. They’re getting better at it as they see it, but they just don’t know everything.
Zach: Got it. I’m curious to know. Do we know in terms of one of those JUUL pods, how much nicotine is in that? In other words, a pack of cigarettes, does one JUUL pod equates to like one pack of cigarettes? How does it work? Do you know?
Mary Beth: Yes. One JUUL pod exactly equates to a cigarette, one pack of cigarettes.
Zach: One pack.
Mary Beth: One pod, one pack.
Zach: I’ve heard, Mary Beth that some of these kids and adults for that matter are going through multiple pods per day.
Mary Beth: Yes.
Michelle: Yes. You think about it. You can have a kid going through a pod. That’s a one-pack cigarette addiction. They’re sharing the pods because let’s face it. They are being economical.
Michelle: They’re pooling their money and sharing the pod. Amongst the few of them, they can go through quite a few pods. In some stories I’ve read, a young man was spending $150 a month on e-cigarettes supply.
Michelle: He ended up being sick, but his family had no idea he was doing this. They just didn’t know that this was an issue because it conceals so well.
Zach: Got it. You talk about concealing. One of the things I think that a lot of these kids end up switching to e-cigs and smoking cigarettes they switch to vaping or they’re just trying out vaping in general, they start with vaping, is that they can vape in bathrooms and in class for that matter and really not get caught. How are kids able to do that?
Michelle: I think you can hold a device in your hand and conceal it so easily because it was designed to be that way on purpose. There’s very low odor with the pods.
Michelle: They’re putting their hoodies up and they’re turning their heads to the side and concealing that way or they’ll blow the vapor in their elbows. It dissipates very quickly and there’s very low odor so they can go under the radar. They can do it in the classroom, which we’re hearing that they are, very heavily and they go to the bathroom and just go right under the radar with it.
Zach: Wow. Okay. Is it easy for these kids to, if they start vaping, to stop vaping or is it really difficult?
Michelle: It’s difficult.
Mary Beth: Yes, it’s difficult. They’re addicted. They’re addicted to nicotine. All the cessation programs that were created, obviously they were created for adults who were addicted to traditional cigarettes.
It’s taken a little bit for everything to start then. “Okay. How do we help them who are adolescents with their brain development to get off of e-cigs?” There are different options, but it definitely changed that whole dynamic that have not before been an issue to change that dynamic.
Zach: All right.
Michelle: There are really great resources up on the Center for Disease Control to quit smoking and questions and resources for parents to support their teens and it’s tough. It’s really tough.
Zach: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Mary Beth: There’s a site called teen.smokefree.gov that they can go to. Pediatricians also can help. There’s an app called quitSTART. That is another place they can go. The other places that Michelle mentioned are available to help them. Sometimes even just talking to the pediatrician and trying to get that step going to begin this process to wean away from it.
Zach: E-cig quitSTART as in Q-U-I-T, T as in Tom? quitSTART?
Mary Beth: Yes.
Zach: Got it. Okay.
Michelle: There’s this organization…oh sorry, Zach, for locally…there’s an organization for quitnowkentucky.org, which I think we said but just making sure that’s on the list there for after the show here.
Zach: Good deal. This to me seems like an age-old question because it was around when I was growing up, a teenager. The question was why smoke cigarettes or vape in the first place? Right? What makes it so attractive? The common response is, “Well, it makes me look cool. I feel older. I’m more mature” Is there anything in addition to those sort of themes now or themes that are present now?
Mary Beth: Yes. The flavor is number one. They taste good.
Mary Beth: You’ve got cherry, crème brulee.
Mary Beth: There’s just a fluff of flavors. Right. You don’t have to taste the taste of a cigarette. Somebody starts out of curiosity. It gives a real quick hit to the brain which makes it, “I want to try that again.” It’s just that natural progression of addiction. “I need that.” It doesn’t take long and now you’ve got the nicotine addiction going.
As your friends are doing it, your chances are higher. You’re going to try it. If everybody has the pods and has them and it’s just that again, not even for some, peer pressure, but the friends, groups are very strong. They want to be with people that do things that are similar. They will find that group.
Mary Beth: As Michelle said the videos make it all look really cool. It just did. You want to make yourself popular? Do a couple of videos, upload them, and see and then you’re going to keep trying to outpace that. You’re just actually increasing your addiction.
Zach: Yes, absolutely.
Mary Beth: Yes.
Zach: You’re building up a tolerance, right?
Mary Beth: Right.
Zach: You mentioned that this is something where one in 20 are now doing this vaping in middle school. Is this a topic I should be discussing with my middle school student?
Michelle: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that prevents, to have good information. I had a student tell me that was in high school and on an athletic team that she almost felt fortunate to have asthma because she could tell her teammates, “There’s no way I’m going near that because I have asthma.” Everybody else around her was doing it and they were also athletes.
Michelle: Just like building up the resilience and the ability and the practicing saying no before they’re asked or offered and that takes a lot of practice. I think when you first go into start practicing you realize they’re responses are pretty weak.
Michelle: You want to build those up and have them be very confident in why they’re saying no and why it’s important.
Zach: Right. I was thinking, too, Michelle is…real quick, just as a parent, how do I even bring this up? It’s such a weird time, I think in a kid’s life to be in middle school anyway. There are so many changes going on with the body. They’re just so conflicted with a lot of different messages that are going on. How do I prepare? My kids are seven and one so that when I’m ready and need to have that conversation, I’m able to have it.
Michelle: Mary Beth coaches us very well here. Position yourself where you’re not looking straight at them so they feel way more comfortable; maybe that you’re just driving in the car, something that might bring you to that topic more gently, more naturally than head-on. Just asking questions about what they’re seeing as cool might help give you some good gauges for even preparing the conversation for a little bit later.
We’ve found some really good resources out of the Julius B. Richmond Center. Folks might want to go to richmondcenter.org. It’s really great: fact sheets for parents and good, accurate information on tobacco products. Just questions to ask so you can go into that conversation prepared with a lot of segues that you can use based on where your teen might go with the conversation.
Zach: Got it.
Mary Beth: The other thing to keep in mind is you model the behavior.
Zach: Right, right. Absolutely.
Mary Beth: It’s simply just saying, “Hey, this is where I’m at on this. What do you know?” Be curious about what they know. They probably know way more than you think they know about it.
Zach: Right. They’re experts.
Mary Beth: Yes so just say, “Hey, what have you heard about this?” Make it a conversation as much as you can. Don’t look soft when he answers you because sometimes it’s really hard not to look soft.
Zach: Oh, man. Right.
Mary Beth: At the same time is you’d want to know. “You know what? I don’t believe in anybody smoking cigarettes, whether it’s an e-cig or traditional cigarettes, I want you not to do it. It’s an important health issue. You’d become very addicted very easily at these years. I want you to not have this expensive habit.” Talk about what you see on TV with the kids mainly in hospitals. People have died from this.
Mary Beth: It’s just to be very upfront and say, “I don’t want that for you.”
Mary Beth: “This can affect so much so I’m just being real clear that this is not going to be something we’re going to be doing.” If you have an addiction to nicotine then you need to address your own addiction to nicotine.
Zach: Yes, absolutely.
Mary Beth: That makes it sometimes really hard.
Zach: It would be quite the conversation as your lighting up your Marlboro and you’re talking to your kid.
Michelle: Exactly! I hear that from parents who say, “Well, I’m addicted and I’ve tried.” I said, “Then address that. Be honest. I have tried for years to stop this and I can’t.”
Zach: Yes, absolutely.
Michelle: “This is what it’s done to my body.” Be upfront about it because for some people they’ve heard it’s very hard to stop smoking cigarettes. If that’s the case in your home, be upfront about it. Talk about it and say, “I don’t want this for you. I don’t want this on your back.”
Zach: Right. I think it’s one of the most highly addictive substances in our culture, our bodies is nicotine.
Zach: I don’t think there’s much of a question about that. It’s up there with some of the very hard drugs and in people that are going through both detox and who have been in treatment with us will tell us that, “I could kick heroin,” but coming off this stuff because it’s socially…it’s not socially acceptable. I mean people think it’s disgusting.
It’s socially legal. You don’t have to go into these dark corners of the Internet or a dark alley to obtain them. You just go to your corner store and you get it. Man, it is very difficult to come off nicotine. There’s no question.
I do have a question though in terms of vaping. This isn’t to condone it or support it or just outright refute it, but is vaping safer than smoking traditional cigarettes? Is that true?
Mary Beth: For an adult who is addicted to traditional cigarettes, you do remove the tar.
Mary Beth: If you’re an adult and you’re trying to wean yourself off of traditional, that’s what it was made for, is that market. You at least removed the tar. You might feel healthier. There are cessation programs that are available from thereon. When you start in the other direction for a youth, they are addicted to nicotine.
There are various levels of nicotine in these pods depending on who is the manufacturer. You don’t know how much you’re really going to get. For JUUL, one pod equals one pack but that’s not always true. You don’t know what you’re really inhaling and what it’s doing to your body. We’re going to keep seeing that change. We don’t know what it does for a bystander.
Zach: Oh, wow. Yes. I didn’t think of that one.
Mary Beth: We know it’s an issue, but it’s an aerosol. You’re putting an aerosol out with all these fine particles. What does that do to people that are around you inhaling it?
Mary Beth: It still glamorizes smoking. It’s just a different form of it.
Mary Beth: There is no real quality control on these pods. It’s not controlled that tightly. Until there’s more control and more standardization, we just don’t know enough. I don’t necessarily think it’s safer. It is if your main objective as an adult is try to get away from traditional cigarettes. I would think, I’m not in that position, but I would think that for some people they find that safer, but not for our use, not for our use.
Zach: Michelle, anything that you’d like to add?
Michelle: No. I think Mary Beth covered it greatly. Thanks.
Zach: Cool. I think that we’ve covered a lot especially around this whole resources and recommendations that you all have listed here during our podcast on how to have conversations as parents with children about these issues with addiction and in different behaviors and in what it can do long-term because I think long-term is what we’re ultimately looking at with all of our kids.
Where do we want them to be and how do we want them to be successful. Those are all questions that they’ll have to answer, but starting them on that right course is so important.
Mary Beth: I’ll just add one thing with the parents, something to keep in mind as a parent is to also explain to the kids that you don’t know what’s in that pod.
Mary Beth: You just don’t know. Kids have been changing what’s in the liquid, adding other things. There are re-sealable pods, pods that you can buy additional liquids and put that in there. You don’t know whether the pod is nicotine or maybe has THC in it. You just don’t know. I think that’s an important point to make to parents is that there is that unknown quality to it.
Michelle: I’ll add, too another really great resource just to start to get your head around, up-to-date information on our website operationparent.org. In our free resource section, we have a webinar that we did with Dr. Pat Purcell who is a Kentucky expert on vaping, pediatrician. That stuff is really an expert overview of vaping in general, the chemical components.
What struck me, too is what she’s saying in her practice already as a pediatrician with the effects of teen vaping. That’s a great place to start even as you fire up for the conversations with the teens. There’s really great information there.
Zach: No pun intended on the “firing up,” right?
Michelle: That’s right.
Zach: I can’t thank you all enough, Michelle and Mary for taking the time to come on the show today. To learn more about Operation Parent, you can find them online at operationparent.org.
If you know someone struggling with an addiction and are searching for answers, visit us at landmarkrecovery.com to learn more about substance abuse programs that are saving lives and empowering families.
Until next week, I’m Zach Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio wishing you well.
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