'People need to know it can happen to anyone'

Vaping is the inhaling of a vapor created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device.

Raising awareness about vaping has become a passion for one Grand Haven Township woman.

Since learning about her son’s vaping habit and nicotine addiction, Carolyn Taylor says she feels called to spread awareness about the trend happening throughout the country and locally.

According to the 2017 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey, almost a third of teens reported they had used an electronic vapor product, and almost half said they perceived little risk in using e-cigarettes or electronic vapor products.

Taylor said she hopes parents know vaping and nicotine addictions can happen in all families, even if parents are involved in their children’s lives and have conversations. Taylor said they never thought their son would get involved in vaping, and it’s easy for teens to hide it.

“People need to know it can happen to anyone,” she said.

Prior to her family’s experience, Taylor said she didn’t know much about vaping, except that it could let you wean off smoking because it allows you to control nicotine levels.

Late last fall, Carolyn and David Taylor said they noticed their son, then a sophomore at Grand Haven High School, withdrawing from them and spending more time in his room. They chalked it up to being a teenager.

In monitoring their son’s social media accounts, the Taylors noticed references in messages asking about getting something and mango flavor, but they didn’t connect anything to vaping.

David’s suspicions started when he picked up his son from school. In conversation, David mentioned the topic of vaping, and his son shared things and spoke about students who vaped. At the time, David said his son was honest about trying it and claimed it made him dizzy.

Every now and then, David said he noticed a sweet scent prevalent when he picked his son up from school. The boy claimed it must be vitamin water, gum and other possible explanations.

“I had no reason not to believe him at that time,” David said.

As the sweet scent continued, David kept looking for the smell in shampoos and locations, but he couldn’t put his finger on where the smell originated.

When David walked into a room one evening to grab something, he noticed his son at the sink with a bigger bottle, small bottle and small cartridge. David found the smell.

Although his son tried hiding it, David said it was vape liquid that his son was moving from a big bottle into a little cartridge. The boy said it wasn’t his, and he was refilling the cartridges for other people. The items were thrown away.

The next day, David visited a local business to learn more about vaping. He said the woman showed him the products, determined what it was his son had and explained how it works.

David said he thought his son was done vaping, but the smell returned. The boy said he was around other teens who vaped and it must have stayed on his clothes.

Carolyn reached out to school officials about what could be done to raise awareness about vaping, especially for parents who might not know about vaping, devices or teen use.

When schools closed for several consecutive snow days last winter, the Taylors’ son became ill as he experienced nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms improved when school resumed, leaving Carolyn and David to believe their son had an illness.

The sweet smell returned to the Taylor home late one morning when schools closed for an ice day. Their son attempted to hide the device under his pillow and explain he was holding it for someone. By the evening, he admitted it was his and said he wanted to quit.

The week after the school had an ice day, their son was caught with the vaping device in a school locker room, and he was suspended for three days.

After visiting the family doctor and discussing an interest in ending his nicotine addiction, the teen started nicotine patches and entered counseling. Carolyn said she feels fortunate because her son is open.

By the time Carolyn and David learned about the extent of their son’s addiction, he had been vaping for three months at school and a handful of times in friends’ cars. Carolyn said her son almost never vaped at home.

The Taylors learned the sweet smell came from the vape juices. Their son’s favorites included mango, cinnamon toast crunch and watermelon ice. Carolyn said parents could easily think it’s scented Chapstick or flavored bubble gum.

“You wouldn’t think anything of it as a parent,” she said of the scents.

In an effort to curb their son’s vaping, they limited his access to the product by closely monitoring his spending and friends.

In addition to the boy losing out on participating in a quarter of his sports season because of his suspension, David said they now have trust issues with their son.

“It’s been a long, rough road,” David said.

In the months since learning of their son’s vaping habit and nicotine addiction, Carolyn said every day is a struggle.

“While he’s not been vaping nicotine, he’s still in situations and with friends he did it with, so it’s tough,” she said. “We’re still watching him closely and talking with him a lot.”

From being active on social media to speaking with other parents, Carolyn has been working to spread awareness about vaping. She encourages parents to reach out to other parents and their child’s school, and find out everything they can about vaping. She also recommends having conversations with their partner and children about helping their teen through an addiction.

David encourages parents to attend community events about vaping to better understand what children are facing.

“Don’t be naïve,” he said. “Find out. Talk to them.”

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