Is Vaping a Safe Alternative to Smoking Near Kids? PEOPLE's Health Squad Pediatrician Weighs In

There is debate about whether vaping is safe around children as an alternative to cigarette smoke, but doctors are urging parents to reconsider embracing this misleading narrative.

A new study published in Pediatrics this month based on a 2017 survey of 943 American parents revealed that only 25 percent of them who used electronic cigarettes and smoked traditional cigarettes strictly enforced a no-smoking policy for their cars, as opposed to 42.3 percent of parents who only smoked cigarettes.

Of these dual users, 26.3 percent enforced a no-vaping rule at home while 23.9 percent had the policy in place for their cars. By comparison, the study found an at-home no-vaping rate of 72.7 percent for cigarette-only smokers, and a 65.8 percent rate among the same group for going vape-free inside their cars.

It’s possible that the results point to parents thinking vaping matter in the air is less likely than cigarette smoke to impact their children negatively, but as PEOPLE’s Health Squad Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray points out, vaping liquid is still sold in childproof containers — and for good reason.

“Let’s be very clear: The addictive component of smoking, the nicotine, is still very present in vaping liquid,” she tells PEOPLE. “We know that over 20 percent of high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days. The easiest way to stop is to never start.”

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The study’s lead author, Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of Harvard Medical School, said in an interview with Today that many e-cigarette users mistakenly think the vapor emitted is made up primarily of water, but that’s not true.

As he explained to Today, it’s a “sticky goo” that transforms into an aerosol chemical that anyone around a vaping person can inhale into their lungs, including children.

“Many parents likely don’t know that nicotine can be absorbed through the skin from the vapor as well,” Dr. Murray tells PEOPLE. “So while not exposing your children to the toxic substances inside cigarette smoke, you are still exposing your children to a dangerous chemical.”

Dr. Murray also shares that she is “concerned about how attractive [vaping liquid] flavors are to children and the desire kids have to mimic the adults around them.”

“Nicotine is a very toxic liquid. Less than half a teaspoon of nicotine can be fatal if ingested by a child,” she warns. “This is why nicotine liquid must be sold in childproof containers. Adding bubblegum or other tasty flavors makes it really attractive to kids.”

And like smoking traditional cigarettes, the act itself of vaping is something children might want to perform themselves when they see their moms and dads get satisfaction from it.

“As parents, our actions matter because they are what our children see from us day in and day out,” Dr. Murray, a mom herself, tells PEOPLE. “If we vape, then our children will want to try it too. “

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“We think parents are trying to use these products to protect their kids,” Winickoff added in his interview with Today. “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is they’re using these products in ways that they would never dream of using a cigarette: right in front of their kids, in their home, in their car and that’s disturbing.”

However, the difficulty of giving up smoking cigarettes at all is something that does not go unnoticed or unappreciated — and as Dr. Murray explains, medical professionals are only a phone call or office visit away.

“Quitting smoking is not easy, so kudos to the parents that are working on a plan to end their nicotine addiction,” she tells PEOPLE. “Pediatricians are always willing to help support parents as they quit.”

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