If you are like me, there are conversations with your children that you dread having. Talking to our children about drugs and alcohol can be uncomfortable and awkward for both them and us. However, we all know deep down that these conversations are essential and really make a difference.
There is a relatively recent epidemic now facing our children: vaping. This is a global crisis of epic proportions. For those of you who may not be familiar with vaping or e-cigarettes, vaping involves using a device (often one that resembles a standard USB device) to inhale an aerosol that the device creates by heating a liquid that typically contains nicotine. The most popular device on the market is manufactured and sold by a company called JUUL, and you may have heard vaping referred to as “JUULing.” JUUL pods (the liquid that is heated in the vaping device) come in a variety of flavors, including mango, cucumber, and fruit and creme. While JUUL maintains that it is intended as a smoking cessation product (although there is no clinical data to demonstrate that vaping is an effective smoking-cessation strategy), the existence of these “teen-friendly” flavors would suggest otherwise. As an aside, vaping devices can be used to vape liquids containing substances other than nicotine, including THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Finally, even vaping liquids that purport to be nicotine-free almost always test positive for significant levels of nicotine. Most users of the product do not realize that one JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
“So what?” you may ask. Isn’t vaping less dangerous than smoking cigarettes or marijuana? Certainly we don’t want our children ingesting nicotine, but is it really all that bad? Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to us. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effects of nicotine on the adolescent brain can be devastating. Because nicotine affects the development of the brain’s reward system, continued nicotine use by adolescents can not only lead to nicotine addiction, but it can also make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines more pleasurable to the adolescent’s developing brain. Nicotine also affects the development of brain circuits that control attention and learning. Other risks include mood disorders and permanent problems with impulse control. Finally, vaping exposes the lungs to a variety of chemicals, including some known carcinogens and toxic chemicals. The long-term effects of exposure to these chemicals is not yet known.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Michigan, increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest-ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance-use outcome in the United States. The study concludes that 21 percent of 12th graders, more than one in five, vaped nicotine in the last 30 days. Vaping by 10th graders also doubled, from 8 percent to 16 percent. But perhaps the most alarming statistic is that 6.1 percent of 8th graders vaped nicotine in 2018. That’s right, these behaviors are starting in middle school. Marijuana vaping, a phenomenon that until recently has been relatively rare, is now more prevalent than ever amongst adolescents, with 7.5 percent of 12th graders and 7 percent of 10th graders having vaped marijuana during 2018.
Although I am not aware of any specific data regarding vaping by yeshiva high or middle school students, I would suggest that, based on substantial anecdotal evidence, the numbers in our community are not dissimilar from the national averages. In fact, one local yeshiva high school student reported that he believed the number of 12th graders who have vaped nicotine to be well over 50 percent.
So what are we, as parents and as a community, to do? As parents, we must have that awkward conversation. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has an excellent article on how to talk with your kids about vaping (drugfree.org/article/how-to-talk-with-your-kids-about-vaping). Among the key points they make are: be equipped with facts (reading this article is a good start); have conversations and take advantage of openings to prompt those conversations; convey your expectations in a clear and unambiguous way; and be a good role model. As a community, we need to continue to foster awareness and promote an open dialogue around substance abuse, including adolescent vaping. To that end, our local yeshiva middle schools, in partnership with Communities Confronting Substance Abuse and the Bergen County Prevention Coalition, are sponsoring an event titled “Hidden in Plain Site,” an interactive program where parents will be able to observe a mock-up of a teenager’s bedroom and where alcohol, drugs and other paraphernalia could be hidden. There will also be a Q&A session with the prevention experts from the Coalition. The event will take place Wednesday evening, February 20, at 8 p.m. at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus and is open to the community. We look forward to seeing you there.
By Etiel Forman
Etiel Forman, a 25+ year Teaneck resident, and his wife, Lianne, are proud parents of five children (and grandparents of one grandson), including their daughter, Elana, currently in recovery from addiction. Through their family’s struggles they have channeled their efforts toward creating community awareness about substance abuse and addiction, and founded Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (www.Time2TalkAddiction.org), a charitable organization committed to community education, awareness and prevention.