- The commercial interests hired experts to craft social media campaigns to engage minor-aged youth in vaping.
- The response to these commercial efforts using e-cigarette technology to get youth as nicotine consumers includes 1) a Surgeon General warning about the health risks for youth, 2) legislation pending to raise the minimum age to purchase vape or tobacco to 21 years, and 3) activities in federal, state and local governments to ban flavored vape products.
- And still, youth are vulnerable to believe that vaping is harmless because it originated as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes.
- This feature offers three topics to have meaningful conversations with your child about their own response to what is trending in their world.
A recent New York Times feature on e-cigarettes explains how the vaping device, JUUL was specifically designed to be the most powerful way to get a nicotine hit: according to the report one pod delivers the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. In their cyber-powered peer communities, vaping (i.e., the use of electronic smoking devices that deliver powerful and intoxicating concentrations of nicotine and THC) is perceived as a harmless, even safe way, to get a short term intoxicating fix to take the edge off of stress.
According to the Surgeon General, the percentage of high school-age children reporting past 30-day use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent between 2017 and 2018. Use among middle school-age children also increased nearly 50 percent. There is great health risk for teens and young adults including addiction and potential lung damage. You can read more about the warning from the Surgeon General’s warning last year.
The original idea behind electronic cigarettes was to help old fashioned cigarette smokers quit smoking cigarettes by giving them a nicotine delivery “smoking” alternative. As the e-cigarette technology evolved with more big money investors, the marketing efforts to support the revenue demands of shareholders inspired campaigns beyond adults trying to quit smoking cigarettes and specifically targeted youth markets. These commercial interests hired consultants to shape their products, flavor offerings and messaging on social media to captivate, engage and hook young hearts, minds and brains.
The federal government response to the youth vaping crisis has been multi-pronged. There was the Surgeon General’s warning (above), and legislation introduced to raise the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 years, and there is a current debate on whether or not to ban flavored vape pods. In the meantime, local jurisdictions (states and counties) are taking steps to implement bans on the sale of flavors in storefronts. (Purchasing the flavored products online, well that is another matter.)
While we cannot control how the commercial interests will seek to exploit children with every innovation, the most important thing we can do as parents is equip youth with insights about the profit motive associated with addictive products and what’s trending in their world. Below are a few crucial conversation topics to help raise awareness about how to make well-informed choices and seek your help if they do not know how to stop after starting the use addictive products.
Topic 1: Ask about the hidden agenda of who profits from popular trends
In the case of vaping, for example, this technology started out as a way to deliver nicotine to cigarette smokers without the harmful chemicals contained in cigarettes. In theory this innovation was meant to promote better health. In practice, the potential for profit by selling the product to get non-smoker adults and youth using it attracted big business investment. And now the tobacco industry owns and operates JUUL with the same business model it used to get people, especially youth, hooked on cigarettes. The addictive potential of nicotine is a good business investment because then you have consumers for life.
Health consequences with vaping include addiction (which means that you believe that will not be able to get through the day without using the device frequently) and other damage to the body which include some serious lung damage (popcorn lung), but mostly it seems too early to tell the extent of long term effects.
Another example is the opioid epidemic. Oxycontin was initially introduced as an effective way to address chronic pain, and was promoted by business interests as safe and free from harmful side effects. This belief that opioids could be administered freely without a negative consequence became a core philosophical element of the medical community as physicians embraced the correlating mandate to give patients medicine for their pain. This belief turned into a practice that never allowed for the possibility of addiction.
As a result, the medical community endorsed this practice and the big pharmaceutical companies flooded the market with opioids, fueling addiction among the most vulnerable which turned into a major health epidemic that led to the rise of heroin use as a cheaper alternative to the pill. This marketing campaign resulted in many deaths, destroyed lives and broken families. Big pharmaceutical companies made huge profits and continue to lobby government officials, elected and appointed, to endorse policies that favor their industry.
Topic 2: Inquire about your own motive for using or engaging in what’s trending
The most important question children need to ask is “why am I doing this?” There can be many reasons, such as curiosity, anxiety, boredom, or wanting to be a part of the group, and fear of being rejected if they do not conform.
- Explain why these are all natural feelings, but the reason to engage in vaping or try anything that you feel excitement or pressure to “join in” should be checked against a little research which they can do with you.
- It will be important for you as the parent to be open to learning something with your child, and avoid “freaking out”. If your child senses you are angry or fearful about a topic they bring up, it is very likely that they will choose not to involve you. And then it is very difficult for you to impart wisdom and make sure they get help if they need it.
Topic 3: Why are there laws limiting the age to purchase or use these products?
Encourage your child to consider that laws limiting young people from using certain products like alcohol and tobacco and rules about creating social media accounts (the standard is 13 years and older) are about educating the public in order to help us all prevent health risks for young people. These laws are to benefit you, not to control you.
And these laws have consequences for the companies that do not comply. The stores that sell tobacco and liquor to underage consumers could lose their license to sell. Social media companies can also be fined for not complying with the online child privacy protection regulations. The motive behind these laws is to provide protective factors for the youth in our society who deserve the right to grow and mature without impediments introduced by commercial interests. It is simply a standard for making our society a safer place to grow up.
When children understand how big business is promoting many things that are cool or popular because they are profiting even if it is harmful for them and their peers, they are better equipped to defend their own choice to say “it’s not for me”. Also consider that your child may encounter peers who are struggling with addiction and other health consequences. So it will be important for them to know they can come to you as a trusted resource to help.
Given these dynamics of commercial exploitation and government efforts to prevent youth from being their targets, the most important security your child will experience is in their relationship with you. You are the parent and they need to know you are interested in what interests them, what breaks their heart, and that you are available to help them correct themselves if they fall into a snare of addiction because you are for them, not against them.
- To learn more about resources to help with addiction and other behavioral health issues, contact Joanna.
- To learn more about creating a family culture where crucial conversations about what’s trending can happen without anxiety, contact Joanna.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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