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PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Vaping continues to be a controversial topic, especially since the habit attracts so many children to try the smoking alternative. While the health implications of vaping are still unclear, some studies point to e-cigarettes being as dangerous to human health as regular tobacco products. So how do you keep kids away from e-cigarettes until adulthood? A new study finds one place to start is with the parents. Researchers in Pittsburgh say children who have clear goals for their future and supportive parents are much less likely to try either vaping or traditional tobacco products.

“The use of e-cigarettes by young people is at epidemic proportions, with 27% of youth surveyed saying they’d vaped in the last 30 days,” says lead author Nicholas Szoko, M.D., a fellow in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, in a media release.

“And a lot of the traditional methods we think of for counseling youth on the dangers of tobacco and drug use may not apply to vaping. Pediatricians and parents need a better understanding of what motivates adolescents to eschew e-cigarettes.”

Szoko and his team surveyed nearly 2,500 high school students in the Pittsburgh public school system during their study. Researchers looked at how often these youngsters use e-cigarettes or smoke regular tobacco products and if one of four “protective factors” play a role in their decision to vape or smoke.

Those protective factors include:

  • Future orientation: A person’s beliefs, hopes, and goals for the future
  • Parental monitoring: The relationship and communication between parents and children
  • Social support: The ability to rely on friends and peers
  • School connectedness: The sense of belonging and inclusion at school

Parents help prevent vaping, but friends and school don’t

The results show that both future orientation and parental monitoring contribute to a 10-25 percent drop in the likelihood children start vaping. Social support or school connectedness did not show any link to young students deciding to use e-cigarettes.

Unlike vaping, all four factors contributed to fewer students using tobacco products. However, the team notes that the preventative factors did not help students already smoking quit the habit. Szoko says this just proves that once a young person starts using tobacco, quitting to simply hard to do, even with support. Overall, study authors add the differences between vaping and smoking don’t surprise them.

“E-cigarettes are positioned and marketed differently than tobacco cigarettes. They’ve been popularized as tools for smoking cessation, and previous research has found the various flavors and trendy ads for vaping are attractive to youth,” Szoko explains. “We also know that vaping primes adolescents to transition to smoking cigarettes and other substance use. So, it stands to reason that we may need different approaches to keep kids from vaping, than we use to stop them from smoking.”

“Future orientation is something very tangible that pediatricians and other health care providers can talk with teens about in the clinic—motivational interviewing is something we’re very comfortable doing with our patients,” adds senior author Dr. Alison Culyba, assistant professor of pediatrics, public health, and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“And we can help parents to navigate their roles as their children become pre-teens and teens, and help encourage open conversations with their kids about what they’re encountering.”

The findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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