Living with Children: Is vaping OK for high school senior?


QUESTION: Our son, a senior in high school, is vaping. He claims he does it to control his anxiety. I worry about him getting into harder drugs when when he goes to college this coming fall. What’s your take on this?

ANSWER: Your son hasn’t done his homework. Nicotine is more likely to produce anxiety and related symptoms — tachycardia, for example — than have a calming effect. The exception is that once a person has developed nicotine dependence, mental unease (i.e., anxiety) does tend to rise between “smokes” (using the term generically) as craving increases, in which case puffing on a vape is probably going to produce temporary calming.

On the other hand, your son may be experiencing a placebo effect from vaping. That is, he thinks it’s helping him deal with anxiety; therefore, it is helping him deal with anxiety. Human beings can talk themselves into (or, be talked into) believing all sorts of absurdities.

Before we go any further, let’s get two misconceptions out of the way: First, nicotine itself is not associated with a higher risk of cancer. The risk of lung cancer is primarily a matter of the junk in cigarettes — ammonia, for example.

Second, nicotine is addictive, for sure, but the addiction is not debilitating like, say, crack cocaine; it’s more akin to being addicted to caffeine. FULL DISCLOSURE: Yours truly is addicted to caffeine. I don’t steal purses from little old ladies to fund my habit, however.

Some studies have found an association between vaping and later use of dangerous drugs (for the sake of argument, I’m lumping cannabis in with “dangerous”), but to my knowledge, the studies in question have not been replicated, so the reports are fuzzy.

When evaluating research, one must always consider that a study reports an average that does not predict any individual outcome. So, a study finding that vaping is likely to precede drug use included vapers who never went on to use drugs other than nicotine. If you want to worry about something, the most dangerous drug of choice among college students is alcohol.

In your son’s case, the most important consideration is his age. He is or soon will be eligible to join the armed services and vote. At this stage of the game, I doubt you are going to be able to do anything constructive about your son’s vaping, and anything you attempt by way of force is only going to cause him to become more secretive.

Within your son’s peer group, vaping may be cool in high school and maybe even college, but when he gets out into the world, he’s going to quickly discover that vaping is going to be neither professionally nor socially advantageous.

The bottom line: I think this will run its course. While it does, I strongly advise you to let this go. There are bigger fish to fry, for sure.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]