Originally touted as a healthy alternative to cigarettes, vaping is now being exposed as a major health threat and an epidemic amongst young people. We asked Mind Solutions' Quit Smoking expert and qualified hypnotherapist Louisa Kiernander what makes it so attractive to teens – and how to help them stop.
I grew up in an age where smoking was the thing to do.
Any self-respecting rebellious teen was able to inhale without coughing and blow smoke rings like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.
We knew we weren’t supposed to do it and yet we did it regardless. The risk of getting in trouble didn’t matter. It simply added to the charm.
Fast forward 20 years and there is a new rebellion on the block. Vape.
How Addictive Is Vaping for Teenagers
The tastier, more pleasant-smelling younger cousin of cigarettes, vaping (including Juul and other e-cigarettes) are decidedly easier for today’s generation of thrill-seeking teens.
Think about it.
A teacher walks out of the classroom to get some printing.
One student lights a cigarette; 15 others take a hit on a vape. Who is going to get caught?
The smoker will still be frantically puffing on that cigarette when the teacher comes back in, while the vapers will have already concealed their tiny, subtle nicotine-delivery systems back into their pockets/bags/bras, and will be back at their work.
At break time, schools offer a wide range of places where a teen can be hidden from view for five seconds – the amount of time it takes to take a hit on a vape and for the vapour to dissipate.
Bring this battle in to your home and, as a parent, you have lost before you even know that you have started.
The figures: Vaping use is rising among teenagers
Teens that vape can do so in their homes every day without their parents even having an inkling, without leaving any evidence, or trace.
By February of this year, 5 million teens in the US were vaping.
Now, with a hot rash of deaths and vaping-related illness spreading across the US (and other countries), there is more reason than ever for parents to amp up their efforts at keeping their children safe from this dangerous habit.
Why Teenagers Start Vaping
While it would be convenient to blame the fruity flavours and inoffensive smell of the vape for the ‘epidemic’, the fact is that teens of previous years were just as attracted to cigarettes, which were decidedly not tasty, or pleasant smelling.
The real reason teens start vaping today is the exact same reason that teens in the past started smoking cigarettes: because they think it looks “cool”.
In my work as a hypnotherapist, I specialise in helping people to quit smoking – whether that’s cigarettes, shisha, dokha, Juul, or any other type of smoking, or nicotine, habit. In recent months, I am increasingly being asked to help teens and adults to quit vaping.
How to help teens quit smoking and vaping?
As with pretty much all of hypnosis, the process for quitting smoking and quitting vaping is largely based on communicating with the subconscious mind.
This is the part of your brain where your emotions come from and also where your memories are stored.
As habits are really just memories repeated over and over again (normally for comfort), the subconscious is also where habits are programmed.
The subconscious mind bases its perception of a behaviour on how it makes us feel.
Homework equals mental effort and self-control and therefore is not very desirable.
Vaping equals confidence, social acceptance, bonding with peers, and therefore is very desirable.
Why Kids and Teenagers Start Vaping
For teens, who are typically struggling with self-esteem, social issues, stress and more, anything that triggers feelings of confidence, or social safety, is quickly identified by the subconscious mind as being useful and positive.
Ironically, my own 13-year-old daughter tried vaping earlier this year.
Even though she knew it wasn’t a good thing to do, when she was invited to try it by a group of girls vaping in the toilets of her school, she found she couldn’t say no - the social appeal was too strong.
Luckily, she was soon caught by a friend’s mother at a party and unceremoniously ejected from the gathering; the shame of which led to her confessing everything and asking for help to quit.
“I don’t know why I did it,” she says.
“It kind of looks cool in the mirror. I felt like if I didn’t do it, I would be judged and that they would think I was scared, or not brave, or childish. I thought they would think I am not fun to hang around with...
...Now most of those girls are smoking actual cigarettes. Even really innocent, sweet girls get into vaping.”
Another teenager, LH, 16, also from the UK, says that although she doesn’t vape, most of her friends do. She says:
“It’s everywhere. If you go to a party, the majority of people either have their own vape, or they are sharing someone else’s.
“I first noticed people starting to do it in year nine, but over the past year a lot more people seem to be doing it – sporty and non-sporty people… Last semester, about 20 kids were caught vaping in the school toilets in the space of one week and all of them were suspended.”
“I think it’s just a trend and people try it because they want to feel part of the cool group. But then they can’t stop because they get addicted to the nicotine.”
How to prevent teenage Vaping - building resilience
The process of helping a teen to quit vaping is exactly the same as helping someone to quit smoking: we change the way their subconscious mind thinks about their habit.
So, as a parent, what can you do at home to help your child to stay safe from the vaping trend? The answer lies in their self-belief.
How comfortable is your child with being ‘different’?
How easy do they find it to say “No” to their friends?
How willing would they be to risk judgement, or to feel left out?
If your child has fallen prey to the vaping trend, chances are they felt pressured, or they were worried about the social consequences of turning down the offer to start vaping.
It’s easy for us to preach to our kids, “Go against the grain. Be yourself. If they are real friends, they will like you regardless.”
But social exclusion is one of the top pain points for the average adolescent – as most of us can remember if we think back to our own younger years.
With my teenage clients, including my own daughter, in addition to using tailor-made hypnotherapy and visualisation to change the way their subconscious minds feel about vaping, I work on creating a secure sense of identity.
Explain to your teenager that vaping is just the first in a long line of dangerous substances, or experiences, that they will be offered in life and that the bigger worry is that it shows their discomfort with saying, “No”.
Ask them to think about adults who they admire, or look up to, or simply like, and encourage them to think about how these people are unique.
What makes them funny, or kind, or interesting, or different?
What would that person be like if they had simply followed the crowd?
Which of their character traits would the world miss out on if that person was afraid to be their true selves?
How to talk to kids about Vaping?
Talk to your child about celebrities that they are aware of – Jonathan Van Ness (below), Lizzo Beating, Billie Eilish…Would they be as ground-breaking if they were afraid to be different?
Empower your child to say, “No, thank you,” to things they don’t like, or that aren’t good for them.
For example: a sleepover when they are tired, or an activity that all of their friends do that you know your child isn’t really that interested in.
In this way, they can experience the feeling of saying “no”, or being different, and get used to that feeling.
By enabling your child to test the water on less important situations, they can discover that they are still liked, still invited to parties, even when they don’t just follow the pack.
Model this behaviour by saying “no” to things that you don’t really want to say yes to yourself – the party you don’t really want to go to, or the cake that you don’t really want to eat, or the phone call at an inopportune moment that you would rather not take.
If your teen sees you repeatedly saying “yes” to invitations/food/drinks/conversations that you deep down do not want, simply out of a need to people-please, why would they do any different?
By instilling in your teen an ability to be unique and to go against the grain, you can help them to build an inner resilience against social pressure, so that when they find themselves faced with a vape, (or a cigarette, or a drink, or an invitation to a party they shouldn’t be at, or a ride in a car they shouldn’t be in), being the person that says “No” isn’t as scary for them.
We can’t protect our children from all of the dangers of the outside world, so the protection has to come from within.