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What Student-Athletes Need to Know About Vaping - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

America's youth is facing a new threat: vaping. Vaping, or "e-cigarettes" were originally marketed as a smoking cessation product. In the years since, however, we've learned the truth about vaping. Turns out, it's just as addictive as smoking cigarettes and could be even more harmful.

Vaping is growing in popularity among teens, and the Surgeon General has declared it as an epidemic. According to the advisory, e-cigarette usage among American teens grew by 78% from 2017-2018, with over 3.6 million kids and teens using vaping devices. The health risks of vaping are real for all young people, but they can be especially dangerous for student athletes.

A Closer Look at the Problem

So why is vaping a cool new trend while cigarettes continue to fall out of favor among young people? Partially, it's because e-cigarettes seem pretty harmless when compared to cigarettes. They don't produce an unpleasant odor and are more discreet than cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices have also been marketed to project a cool, laid-back image. On top of that, they come in a range of flavors that appeal to kids and teens-in fact, 43% of students who tried e-cigarettes did so simply because of the flavor.

girl vaping

Behind those flavors, however, is the truth: e-cigarettes are just another nicotine delivery device. Nicotine is addictive and can have a major negative impact on the developing brains of young people. Research shows that it can have an impact on memory and attention. Additionally, many youths who start out vaping eventually smoke traditional cigarettes as well.

Although the studies on the safety of e-cigarettes are still emerging, early findings are disturbing. Many devices contain carcinogens and heavy metals, which carry long-term health implications. The bottom line: vaping isn't safe for people of any age, but particularly for youth under 25.

Health Risks for Student-Athletes

Vaping poses health risks for people of any age, but student athletes may be even more at risk from using e-cigarettes than students who don't participate in sports. Nicotine takes a toll on the body and can prevent student athletes from maintaining the good physical condition they need to avoid injury and perform well during practice and games.

Injuries are fairly common among student athletes, with over a million occurring in the United States each year in practice and during games. Vaping only adds to the injury risk and can cause dangerous respiratory symptoms for athletes.

Nicotine can increase blood pressure and heart rate while narrowing the arteries. That's extremely dangerous in a situation where a student athlete is pushing themselves to the limit. Athletes who vape may find themselves wheezing or becoming short of breath, having asthma attacks, or even suffering cardiovascular consequences.

What Can We Do?

The decline in smoking has shown that it is possible to influence behavior, but it can take years for dangerous habits to fall out of favor among kids and teens. While some states are initiating legislation to make vaping devices harder to get, laws won't end the epidemic of teen vaping by themselves.

Parents, educators, and coaches all need to be part of the solution. If possible, preventing vaping in the first place is the best solution. It's important to educate kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes from an early age. Discuss the dangers before, not after, you notice signs of a problem. Don't wait for kids to bring up the topic-adults need to be proactive in discussing the dangers.

They should also serve as good role models and be on the lookout for signs of vaping. Early detection could prevent a young person from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Talking Points for Coaches and Parents

One of the most challenging aspects of trying to prevent teen vaping is the fact that it's the new "cool" thing to do. Coaches and parents need to be prepared when talking to kids and teens about this dangerous trend.

Peer pressure, as always, can lead to more kids vaping than they would on their own. It's important to give student athletes talking points they can use if they're feeling pressured to use e-cigarettes. Most athletes are very concerned about their athletic performance and may respond well to the facts of vaping: it compromises athletic performance and can be extremely dangerous on and off the field or court.

Vaping can be hard to detect, but it's crucial that every adult in a child's life remains on the lookout for signs of this dangerous habit. It's everyone's responsibility to keep our youth safe from the vaping epidemic.

Articles by Sarah Daren