The Vaping Epidemic

Vaping is a public health concern of epidemic size identified by several health agencies, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, The Public Health Administration of Canada, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2.1 million youth currently use e-cigarettes.

What can you do as an adult to help prevent vaping and intervene if you know a child is vaping?

Be Curious

  • Ask children why they started vaping. Ask children what benefit they are currently receiving from vaping.

Many children start vaping because of peer pressure and the desire to fit in, or they may be interested in all the different flavored vaping liquids available to them. They come in fun flavors, have sleek, enticing packaging, and can be charged in a USB port. Youth who vape have been led to believe that vapes are much less harmful than cigarettes.

  • Consider a child’s experience of stress and trauma.

There is research linking stress and trauma exposure to the use of e-cigarettes. Children who have experienced the following are more likely to vape:

  • Emotional abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to verbal interpersonal violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental problems with police
  • Poverty

Meet unmet needs.

Trauma and stress experiences are often associated with children who do not have their needs met. Needs include:

  • Secure attachment to at least one caring, stable adult.
  • Belief that they possess an area of strength, talent, or ability.
  • Emotional awareness and the ability to manage emotions and behavior.
  • Feeling valuable to others.

If you identify an area with an unmet need, try to meet that need through experiences. This builds resilience.

  • Connect with the child. Notice the child. Let them know you are their champion.
  • Point out areas of strength and talent. Encourage the child to engage in experiences where they can practice their abilities.
  • Co-regulate and teach the child emotional awareness and ways to regulate their feelings and behavior when overwhelmed.
  • Provide children opportunities to help you or others.


Talk to children about why e-cigarettes are harmful to them. It’s never too late to quit. Some children are not aware that most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm brain development. Exposure to nicotine negatively affects a child’s learning, mood, and attention. The aerosol from vapes can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals (nickel, tin, or lead)
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Flavorings with chemicals that are linked to severe heart and lung disease.
  • When addicted to nicotine, it is hard to stop.
  • Some kids turn to vaping to try to deal with stress, but vaping often becomes a source of stress.

We must remember that vaping, like all maladaptive behaviors, is a clue. It is a child’s way of communicating what they need most. For some children, the need is to feel a sense of belonging and connection among their friends. For others, vaping gives them something to do because they do not feel like they are good at anything else. Many believe vaping will help them regulate emotions that they have never been taught how to manage. Others may feel like offering a vape to a peer is a way to make them feel like they have value to others.

Supporting Staff Towards a Resilience Focused Mindset Shift

Mindset is the most critical step for making lasting changes within a school or organization aspiring to be trauma-informed and resilience-focused. We know that when trauma-informed, resilience-focused adults work within trauma-informed and resilience-focused systems, the well-being of all children increases. However, like with any change, people will experience various reactions to a shift in mindset. Keep in mind that for some, trauma-informed, resilience-focused best practices are the opposite of long-held beliefs driving the practices they have been using for decades. We often see people oscillating between responses such as frustration, blame, doubt, anger, and worry before moving to a place where they can start to learn and implement new approaches. It helps to understand four main types of people, their responses, and strategies to help support them when encouraging mindset shifts. The four types of people you might encounter are historians, resistors, fence-riders, and change leaders.

Types of people and how they respond to change.

Historians. Historians are people who reminisce. It is not that they are opposed to change, they are just not ready to stop doing what they have done for years. They may say things like, “It never used to be this way,” or “behavior is getting worse.” They are used to the way things have been, and even though they see areas for improvement, they are hesitant.

Resistors. Resistors are not enthusiastic about change in whatever form it takes. They will probably only change when given no choice. Resistors openly challenge change. They are convinced that changes will not work and will look for any example to prove they are correct. Resistors may try a strategy one time, and if it doesn’t go well, they will say, “See, I knew this would not help.”

Fence riders. Fence riders will make up most of the population in every organization. They tend to stay on the edge of trauma-informed discussions. They are not fully bought in, but they are not entirely opposed. They are generally open to change once they know it will optimize their performance. Fence riders see strategies work for someone else before buying into their value and benefit if you must select a person to spend time and energy with, choose a fence rider.

Change Leaders. Change leaders are forward thinkers who are prepared to lead the agenda rather than follow. For them, the future isn’t something to respond to but rather shape themselves. They jump in with both feet. They champion the mindset and are ready to implement strategies immediately. They are the first to adopt a new mindset and improve upon practices, so they become operationalized within an organization.

Once you know how a person responds to a proposed shift in mindset, you can try some strategies to support you. People have a fantastic capacity to change and do well when provided with education, strategies, practice, and feedback to help them along the way.

Strategies to encourage mindset shifts.


  • Build connections and relationships.
  • Get curious about why they wish to return to the past. “What works well about what you have always done?”
  • Ask them share stories and examples of what worked well in the past.
  • Invite them to discuss what worked and what did not work in the past.
  • Provide facts and research.
  • Avoid debates.
  • Give them time.


  • They will need to see the historians and fence-riders using strategies before they agree to join in.
  • Start slow.
  • Invite to discussions.
  • Be consistent and patient.
  • Listen.
  • Mirror what they say. “I heard you say that you do not think the strategies will work.”

Fence riders

  • Build connections and relationships. Focus on fence-riders.
  • Set up individual meetings where they can ask questions and share any hesitations.
  • Provide opportunities for them to see strategies in action.
  • Provide them with various experiences for side-by-side modeling.

Change Leaders

  • Nurture this relationship.
  • Advocate for change leaders to chair committee meetings.
  • Invite them to discussions and ask them to speak and share experiences and examples.
  • Encourage them to help with system-wide policies and procedures.

Now that you understand the types of people, you might want to look at a roster of your staff members and identify each person according to their type. From there, you can create a strategy for implementation. All types will benefit from Starr’s trauma-informed, resilience-focused training.