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As Vaping Concerns Rise, Parents Still Catching Up With Evolving Products

Person vaping

U.S. health officials are investigating hundreds of cases of severe lung disease that may be linked to vaping, inciting calls for tighter restrictions to stop e-cigarette companies from marketing to teens. Meanwhile, parents are just trying to separate fact from fiction, for themselves and their children.

Gordon Bender is a prevention specialist at Project Oz, a nonprofit with programs to help kids stay in school, learn job skills and lead drug-free lives. As lawsuits and legislation on e-cigarettes play out across the nation, parents are on the front lines helping teens make healthy choices. Bender said the biggest challenge for parents now is just knowing what they’re up against.

“It’s just the general lack of knowledge of what is available, what’s out there, what they look like, how easy they are to conceal,” he said. 

Bender helped lead a presentation and discussion at Bloomington High School on Thursday night to help parents fill in those knowledge gaps.

He said the e-cigarette market is particularly tough to keep track of.

“These are just like tech, it’s always changing. There are so many new things,” he said.

One product growing in popularity is the disposable e-cigarette, which doesn't need recharged like Juul and other devices.

“So to be able to be on top of these emerging products, and have an understanding of what they look like, what they do, how they’re used, I think those are important for parents to try and stay on top of,” he said.

Amanda Pierce-Ghahramany is the mother of a BHS freshman and works as a paraprofessional at Bloomington Junior High School. She said the presentation helped her feel better prepared for future discussions with both her son and her students about vaping, especially after seeing the range of devices on the market. 

“It’s pretty frightening, I had no idea that the technology was advanced as it is,” she said. An info sheet she picked up included an illustration of a device similar in appearance to a highlighter. Another product shown in the presentation, a hooded sweatshirt, allows the user to vape through the sweatshirt’s drawstrings. 

“It’s very cloak-and-dagger, and working at the school, we need to be aware of that too, watching out for kids that may be bringing in things that we don’t even recognize as something they’re using to vape,” she said. 

Christine Lane said she’s had several conversations with her son, a BHS senior, about vaping, and she’s still learning about the dangers e-cigarettes may pose. 

“Before this presentation I was thinking that it was more steam and vapor, and come to find out that there are a lot more things that can go wrong and that it is much more dangerous than what I had previously thought,” she said.

Bender said it’s a common misconception; actually, the “smoke” that e-cigarettes emit is an aerosol, with particulates of nicotine and other chemicals. Many parents and teens also think these products don’t contain nicotine; and while some brands may make such claims, “There’s just no way of knowing what’s in some of those because there haven’t been FDA tests on most of these e-juices or e-liquids,” Bender said.

While Project Oz provides in-school support for teens at Bloomington-Normal’s five largest high schools, the organization is in the beginning stages of gauging interest in programs for parents. In the meantime, Bender pointed to one accessible resource: the Internet.

“Google is a good one, YouTube has a ton of videos by medical professionals and experts,” he said. “So it’s just keeping up with that outlet, just like anything, to research, research, research.”

That, and making space for discussion with their teens.

“Just be willing to have the conversation,” he said. “Nicotine is a difficult drug to stop using. By having that conversation, having the willingness to let your teen talk to you about what their thoughts, what their feelings are on these topics, and then being able to work through it that way, is important, because there’s really not a whole lot of treatment options, especially teens that are addicted to nicotine and these e-cigarettes.”

Bender also pointed to web and text messaging programs designed to help smokers quit cigarettes and e-cigarettes, such as This is Quitting and BecomeAnEX.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.