Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

'I felt like if I didn’t do it, I would be judged': why teens vape and how to prevent them from getting addicted

Hypnotherapist and quit smoking expert Louisa Kiernander explains what makes vaping so attractive to young people – and offers parents advice on how to help them stop

In December 2018, the US surgeon general labelled vaping as an epidemic among adolescents. Getty
In December 2018, the US surgeon general labelled vaping as an epidemic among adolescents. Getty

I grew up in an age when smoking was the thing to do. Any rebellious teen was able to inhale without coughing and blow smoke rings like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. We knew we weren’t supposed to do it and yet we did it regardless. The risk of getting in trouble simply added to the charm.

Fast forward 20 years and now we have vaping, the more pleasant-­smelling younger cousin of cigarettes (and other e-­cigarettes) tempting today’s generation of thrill-seeking teenagers. Think about it – a teacher walks out of the classroom and one pupil lights a cigarette while 15 others take a hit on a vape. Who is going to get caught?

The vapour dissipates quickly and the vape itself can be stowed away neatly. Teachers can be vigilant, but in the war against underage smoking, vape wins.

At home, parents have lost the battle before they even know it’s started. Teenagers who vape can do so in their homes every day without leaving a trace.

This is why, last December, the US surgeon general labelled vaping as an epidemic among adolescents. By February this year, five million teenagers in the US were vaping. Now, with ­related illnesses being investigated, there are more reasons than ever for parents to increase their efforts to keep their children safe from this dangerous habit.

Why they start

While it would be convenient to blame the fruity flavours and inoffensive smell of vaping, the fact is that previous generations of young people were just as attracted to cigarettes, which taste and smell terrible. The real reason why teens start vaping today is the same reason they started smoking cigarettes in the past: because they think it looks “cool”.

In my work as a hypnotherapist, I specialise in helping people to quit smoking. In recent months, I have been increasingly asked to help teenagers and adults to quit vaping. As with pretty much all of my work, the process is largely based on communicating with the subconscious mind. This is the part of your brain your emotions come from and also where your memories are stored. As habits are really 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. Vaping equals confidence, social acceptance and bonding with peers, and is therefore desirable. For teenagers who are typically struggling with self-esteem, social issues and stress, among other things, anything that triggers feelings of confidence, or social safety, is quickly identified by the subconscious mind as being useful and positive.

Vaping has become a gateway to smoking. Getty
Vaping has become a gateway to smoking. Getty

My 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 at her school, she found she couldn’t say “no”. The social appeal was too strong. Thankfully, 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.

“It kind of looks cool in the mirror,” she said. “I felt like if I didn’t do it, I would be judged and they would think I was scared or not brave or childish.”

Another teenager, 16, told me that, although she doesn’t vape, most of her friends do. “If you go to a party, the majority of people either have their own vape, or they are sharing someone else’s,” she said. “Last term, 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.”

Building resilience

The process of helping a teenager to quit vaping is the same as helping someone to quit smoking: we change the way their subconscious mind thinks about the habit.

So, as a parent, what can you do to help your child 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 judgment, or to feel left out?

By instilling in your teen an ability to go against the grain, you can help them build an inner resilience against social pressure

If your child has fallen prey to the vaping trend, the chances are they felt pressured or they were worried about the social consequences if they didn’t.

It’s easy for us to preach to our kids and say things like “if they are real friends, they will like you regardless”. But social exclusion is one of the top pain points for the average adolescent. With my teenage clients, in addition to using tailor-made hypnosis and visualisation to change the way their subconscious minds feel about vaping, I work on creating a secure sense of identity.

What to do at home

Explain to your teenager that vaping is simply the first in a long line of dangerous substances, or experiences, they will be offered in life – and the bigger worry is that saying “yes” shows their discomfort with saying “no”.

Ask them to think about adults who they admire and encourage them to think about how these people are unique. 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? Talk to your child about celebrities they are aware of – Jonathan Van Ness, Lizzo Beating, Billie Eilish, and so on. Would they be as groundbreaking if they were afraid to be different?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Singer Billie Eilish visits the SiriusXM studios on September 30, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Billie Eilish is a role model for teens today. Getty

Empower your child to say “no, thank you” to things they don’t like or that aren’t good for them. 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 they are still liked, even when they don’t follow the pack.

Model this behaviour by saying “no” yourself; to the invitation to a party you don’t really want to go to, the cake you don’t really want to eat. If your teen sees you saying “yes” to things you 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 go against the grain, you can help them build an inner resilience against social pressure, so that when they find themselves faced with a vape – or anything else that’s bad for them – being the person who says “no” isn’t as scary. We can’t protect our children from all of the dangers of the outside world, so the protection has to come from within instead.

Updated: October 17, 2019 02:17 PM

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