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How to talk to your teen about smoking and vaping

Published on December 16, 2020 at 5:00 / Updated on November 19, 2021 at 14:54

What are the effects of nicotine on brain development in young people? Are vaping products safer than cigarettes? And what about other addictive substances? To provide more clarity for you and help you support your teenager, Familiprix, in collaboration with Vie de Parents, has prepared this useful article for you.

Addiction: It doesn't just happen to others

Nicotine is physically addictive. The brain gets used to receiving nicotine and asks for more. A smoker who is addicted to nicotine will develop withdrawal symptoms if they go without, such as the shakes, headaches and irritability. In adolescents, these symptoms can develop very early, sometimes after the first few puffs. Adolescent brains are still developing and exposure to nicotine can cause lasting changes in certain areas of the brain.

Psychological dependence comes from an association between a positive emotion, such as pleasure or relaxation, and the action of smoking. A cigarette becomes the primary method to manage emotions and stress. As adolescent brains continue to develop, teens are more susceptible to psychological dependence. It should also be noted that young people become addicted to tobacco after having smoked much fewer cigarettes than adults. They also have more difficulty quitting smoking.1

Vaping is no less damaging

Vaping devices have attractive designs. The products taste like fruit. Social media markets it. It has everything that appeals to teenagers. Electronic cigarettes are wrongly perceived as harmless or as an effective way to quit traditional cigarette smoking; however, they are just as dangerous for adolescents. The high concentration of nicotine electronic cigarettes can contain is more addictive in adolescents than in adults.

“Although vaping is popular among teens, many parents are not sufficiently informed about these products and their effects. Be careful not to endorse it since this could have a big impact on our young people.

Part of the problem with vaping lies in the purpose itself. Some vaping devices are so small that you can hide them inside a pencil case. It even prompts some consumers to vape in places where smoking and/or vaping are prohibited, such as in school washrooms or even school classrooms. This type of behaviour therefore aggravates the addiction to these products. It is therefore good to remind your teenager of the importance of vaping in permitted places and of respecting the rules in force. You will not be able to prohibit (since we know that the prohibition pushes people to cross boundaries), but you can be firm with your rules and your expectations,” said Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

If you think your child is vaping or that they are exposed to other young people who are vaping, don’t hesitate to initiate a discussion, especially as soon as they enter high school. Begin a conversation with your teen about vaping and its impact on health. Also, educate yourself to be prepared to answer questions and debunk some myths. You can choose a specific moment to broach the subject or go for spontaneity, like when you see someone vaping on the street. You can take the opportunity to ask your teenager what they think of vaping, if they know people who smoke, if they have ever been tempted to try, etc. You can even watch. 

“It’s good to remember that prohibiting an action or behaviour makes the adolescent more likely to do what is prohibited. Use critical judgment and try to highlight any inconsistencies. This will give you a better chance of advancing your position,” added Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

If your teenager smokes or vapes, you can check their addiction level with them. A person who identifies with at least three of the following statements is struggling with a nicotine addiction problem:

  • There’s an irresistible desire to smoke cigarettes or use electronic cigarettes.
  • There’s a loss of ability to control their consumption.
  • They experience withdrawal symptoms, ranging from dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, cough, constipation, hunger, craving sugary foods, irritability, or pressure in the eyes and head.
  • They develop a greater tolerance (i.e.: a need to consume more to feel the same effect).
  • They increase their time spent smoking.
  • They consume tobacco products in situations where this is prohibited (non-compliance with laws and regulations).

If your child is showing signs of addiction, you can recommend that they consult the health professionals at his school or the services of I QUIT NOW.

If you yourself are a smoker or a vaper, be yourself and explain the reasons why you started smoking or vaping, describe how quickly the addiction set in and how hard it is to quit. Make it clear to your teen that you disapprove of vaping. Don't underestimate that your opinion matters to your child. You have the power to positively influence them and reduce their urge to try vaping. Young people are sensitive to money, the environment and real emotions, so you can make the connection between the habit’s impacts on these areas.

My teenager smokes. How do I react as a parent?

A teenager will start smoking for different reasons, from being part of a group, to be like others - including parents or older siblings—and out of curiosity at a party, for example. Some young people also see it as a way to escape family conflicts or to control their anxiety or emotions. As a parent and role model for your child, it’s important to intervene with an open mind. Your role is important. Don't dramatize the situation and avoid lecturing. Instead, educate yourself and try to have a two-way exchange rather than a one-sided discussion. Be on the lookout for tends and remember that you too were once a young person discovering new things and defining yourself. Above all, be present and interested in them, what they do and what excites them.

“It’s often alarming to realize that your teenager is smoking or vaping. However, it’s important to avoid acting impulsively when faced with this situation. Take the time to think about what you’ll tell them about the subject. The more adolescents feel judged and/or misunderstood, the more they’ll close themselves off and it will be difficult to establish contact,” explained Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

It’s important to talk about smoking to prevent young people from being initiated with tobacco. Your child won’t take up smoking just because you broached the subject; quite the contrary. Talking about it in advance will help satisfy a certain curiosity and help them get information to make a better choice. They will have the resources to develop their opinions, develop their ability to debate and assert themselves.

“It's not uncommon for me to chat with teenagers who say they anticipate when they’ll have a 'puff'. They anticipate their reaction and many are afraid of being laughed at if they refuse to try. To give them a boost, you can help them come up with a few lines in advance that they can quickly recall when the time comes. The simple fact of preparing a plan B, gives them a way to decrease their stress while helping them to maintain their position,” added Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

Some avenues to explore:

  • Promote healthy lifestyles.
  • If your teen consumes, check their interest in changing their habits.
  • Try to understand what needs are met by this consumption and direct your child to alternatives to handle them in a healthier way.
  • Provide information on the effects of smoking.
  • Express your position by speaking in terms of "I". For example: “As a parent, I worry…”
  • Don't hesitate to ask for help if the situation is overwhelming. The various school workers, your CLSC, crisis lines such as Ligne parent and Info psychosocial (811) can help you.

"WARNING! At times, as parents, we emphasize certain topics awkwardly. We want to be subtle and send a message, but in the end we are as obvious as the nose in the middle of your face. Try to avoid this, otherwise teens may shut down lines of communication when they feel like they are being lectured,” concluded Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

The challenge of quitting smoking

Votre ado veut arrêter de fumer, quelle bonne nouvelle! Votre appui et votre bienveillance sont essentiels à cette étape. Soutenez-le dans sa décision, soyez présent et encouragez-le à persévérer. Il est bon de connaître ses motivations à arrêter et de l’aider à trouver des alternatives à la cigarette, comme le sport, la musique, les arts, etc. Lors des périodes plus difficiles, mettez l’emphase sur ses forces personnelles qui l’aideront à arrêter de fumer et valorisez ses efforts. En cas de rechute, aidez-le à identifier les raisons en évitant de porter un jugement. En cas de besoins ou de multiples rechutes, informez-vous auprès de votre pharmacien propriétaire affilié à Familiprix. Le pharmacien est un professionnel de la santé habilité à prescrire, selon certaines conditions, des thérapies de remplacement de la nicotine. Certaines conditions et frais peuvent s’appliquer.

In collaboration with Vie de Parents




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