When I was a teen, lots of my friends started smoking. It was the time of the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, and it seemed like a pretty cool thing to do.
I remember trying cigarettes — I could blow a mean smoke ring — but I never picked up the habit. I think it had something to do with my mother. She was a major smoker when I was a kid, and I hated it. I didn’t like the suffocating feeling when she was smoking in the car. My sister and I used to steal her cigarettes and break them, which would infuriate her. When I was in elementary school, she went through a program called Smokenders and quit. It wasn’t easy. She saved her cigarette butts in a jar and that left a lasting impression on me. It was gross. Smoking was gross.
Since then, many kids have gotten the message that smoking is bad. The number of teen smokers has dropped — from nearly 16 percent in 2011 to just over 9 percent in 2015. Smoking has been banned in Maryland restaurants and bars, and the number of people I know who smoke has also dwindled. I never worried about my kids smoking, and I’ve never seen any of their friends smoke.
But now there’s a fairly new threat: vaping. If you are like me, and don’t know much about vaping or e-cigarettes, you will want to read our recent story “The potential health hazards of vaping for teens.” E-cigarettes apparently deliver nicotine and other chemicals in a vapor form through a battery-operated device. They come in flavors that attract kids, and apparently the number of high schoolers vaping is skyrocketing. But the habit is as bad for your health, if not worse, than smoking cigarettes.
I first heard about vaping when several stores hocking the product opened in my town a few years ago. I remember my daughter telling me at the time that an edgy kid she swam with had e-cigarettes. He was older and she didn’t hang out with him, so I didn’t give it much thought. Vaping wasn’t even on my radar until I was editing the story. I didn’t realize how popular it had become, how bad it can be for you, or how aggressively the manufacturers are marketing toward kids. It’s Joe Camel all over again.
I recently asked my kids if they knew anyone who vaped. My older daughter immediately said she did. When I pressed the topic, she named a few kids. I was surprised. I thought kids were smarter than that. But back in the day, my friends who smoked? They were pretty smart too.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Life editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 18, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 12.