“Our youth are becoming nicotine addicted by something that tastes like

Cancer Council NSW

Sydney mum of three, Jacqueline Woods first found an e-cigarette in her 15-year-old daughter’s pencil case. It was almost impossible to tell it apart from a highlighter pen.

Jacqueline’s daughter has been exposed to e-cigarettes, or ‘vapes’ heavily through social media, and it is now a growing trend for her friends and at school. The e-cigarette she uses comes in 12 fruity flavours; they’re pretty, appealing, and can be easily purchased illegally from local stores and online.

Jaqueline has since found 14 e-cigarettes on her daughter’s possession. She’s tried everything in the book to discourage her daughter from using them, but with their popularity growing among her peers and at school, she’s running out of hope.

We talked to Jacqueline to help shed light on the growing problem of e-cigarettes targeting kids, and to help parents like her to understand what to look out for.

They could be doing it right under your nose

The problem with these vapes is they have no odor or taste. You can’t smell it when they’re smoking in the house and you can’t smell it on your child. They could be doing it right under your nose. In the old days, when kids would choke down a cigarette behind the bus stop, at least parents could smell it on them. Now it’s much more subtle and insidious. I have found photos on my daughters’ phone of her friends vaping on my balcony recently whilst I was home and I had no idea. I have also found photos of my daughter’s friend vaping in the back of her parents’ car while her parents were driving her and her friends to a birthday dinner. When I showed the mother in the front seat the photos, she couldn’t believe it was possible and gob smacked how undetectable this behavior is.

Kids can suck them down in an hour. Anecdotally, one vape is about equal in tobacco content to one pack of cigarettes. They’ll suck them down all weekend, then the school week comes, and they have to deal with the nicotine withdrawals – intolerable mood swings, on top of all the pubescent emotions I’m dealing with already!

Most parents don’t even know they exist

I would say upwards of 75% of her friends are vaping regularly. But when I talk about it with friends, most parents don’t have any idea that they even exist. They’ve never even seen them before and just didn’t know what it was in their kid’s pencil case. Parents need to be educated on the topic as I only found out about it through someone who had a photo of my daughter at a party. Now I keep an eye on social media and it’s so integrated into ‘popular culture’ for these kids. It’s a fashion accessory – the colour needs to match your outfit.

Social media is a key element to this trend

Social media is a key element to this trend, especially for teenage girls, who have a need to copy everything online. Social media has taken the place of more upfront advertising, like they had back in the old days when promoting cigarette smoking. The cowboy smoking Marlborough was good, but not as impactful as girls marketing to girls. This is peer driven marketing which is much more powerful. I have recently found pages on SnapChat where individuals are selling these vapes to minors, offering free delivery and all flavours available. They are even meeting the teens at train stations to collect orders.

If smoking isn’t allowed in advertising, why should it be allowed on social media. Social media is so saturating that it’s impossible to limit the exposure, so I have no hope in changing my daughter’s mindset. Even when we’ve punished her, and we’ve confiscated her phone for a month, she goes to school and accesses it all on her friend’s phones.

They are so cheap; my daughter was getting them for just $15

Vaping is an introduction to cigarettes, setting them up to smoke later in life. My older daughter smokes cigarettes now – It is a natural progression. When you’re not drinking alcohol as a 15-year-old, vapes are perfect because they’re sweet and taste good. But I can see that when you start drinking, cigarettes could become more palatable and accessible. They are just building those associations with nicotine and socialising. They are also so cheap, my daughter was getting them for just $15, which is just so affordable. With older kids buying in bulk online and then selling them to younger kids.

We don’t know the dangers

The problem I have with the vapes is that our youth are becoming nicotine addicted by something that tastes like a lolly. They are also undetectable by parents, meaning that a teenager could be vaping for quite a period of time before a parent could have an opportunity to advise them and counsel them about the problems they face with their health once a nicotine addiction kicks in.

We also do not know the dangers of the chemicals used in vaping. I have seen in many messages between friends on my daughter’s phones comments from teens about stomach aches and diarrhoea after vaping heavily the night before. The unknown health repercussions are also something we should all be worried about. There are better ways to giving up smoking than providing a fruity or odourless product to the market that is far too tempting for children to get access to and use. They need to be banned.

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