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Opinion: My daughter’s vape addiction has become her mission

Nov 19, 2019, 11:53 AM | Updated: 2:18 pm

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact, but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and are not associated with our news room.

As a mom of three adult children, I plead guilty. For too many years, I lived with the improbable image ingrained in my mind: I must be, I thought, the only mom on Earth who’d birthed three perfect humans.

Reality hit me many years ago.

I stayed home from my job at KSL-TV one day to clean house and discovered piles of unfinished homework wadded up in the back of my oldest daughter’s closet. A fifth-grader, she simply hadn’t turned it in.

Nothing could have stopped me as I drove, wadded homework in tow, to her school and confronted her in the hallway for an on-the-spot explanation. At that moment, her 10-year-old eyes told me the story.

Unfortunately, it took me 24 hours after that embarrassing mommy meltdown to realize she didn’t need me to humiliate her. She needed my love, my support, my help. My epiphany would come into play more than a decade later. That’s when I found out about another child’s vape addiction.

My youngest child’s secret vape addiction

vape addiction katie bertram

Debbie and her daughter, Katie, who now speaks to parents and teens about the dangers of vaping.

Fast-forward to 2019. My youngest child, 19-year old Katie, approached me one night to tell me she’d been secretly vaping, nonstop in my home.

Let that sink in.

Nonstop.

In my home.

I had no clue.

Katie admitted to becoming so addicted she couldn’t go without it, not even for an hour. Despite her athleticism, her academic excellence, and in contrast to my very public anti-vaping voice on KSL NewsRadio, my own daughter secretly sucked mint-flavored vape juice into her lungs for hours a day.

As my home filled with a minty aroma, I probably thought she’d bought stock in breath mints. I certainly never suspected vapes.

vape addiction

Katie, pitching at a softball game.

I can’t remember if I wanted to freak out the moment she confessed, but Katie tells groups she now so eloquently delivers her anti-vape message to, that our most loving mother-daughter moment came when I didn’t freak out.

“You just said, ‘Katie, we all do things we’re not proud of. We all do things we know aren’t right. And now, you’ve got to stop,'” she reminds me.

She told that as well to an audience of high school parents. I quietly wept as the words poured from her mouth from behind the podium.

Katie went on to tell them how she stopped. She beat her vape addiction on her own. That if I had freaked out, she’d probably still be vaping today, just to defy me.

Katie, fishing Katie in France with the Eiffel Tower behind her. Katie hiking at Zion National Park

Katie’s voice

Katie has spoken out publicly four times since this summer about her vape addiction and she doesn’t hold back.

She first spoke openly on my radio show, Dave & Dujanovic. Then, she was invited to speak to an audience of health officials, and now schools call to ask her to speak to students. Recently, my longtime colleague, KSL-TV anchor and investigative reporter Mike Headrick, interviewed her for a report that aired on KSL 5.

She speaks from her heart. She speaks her truth. She tells audiences how horrible it is and that she is utterly relieved to have quit.

These are HER words. 

Would you stand over a burning campfire and inhale all the smoke for hours and hours? No. So why in the world would you vape?

She talks about how she first “got scared” when she struggled to breathe while hiking and skiing — two activities she loves.

Physically fit, Katie grew up skiing and playing sports. As a student of biology, she also appreciates her lungs. All great reasons to quit.

As her lungs seemed to struggle, Katie did what we all tend to do: she diagnosed herself via Google. She speaks about how pro-vape websites told her what she wanted to hear, “that all vapers struggle with breathing”. But legitimate health sites told her “what she needed to hear” —  that doctors just don’t know the long-term risks and health effects.

I’m not biased when I say my daughter is smart. Her grades and her drive prove she is intelligent. She also closely monitors the news. So her brains and her gut told her that the growing tally of Americans getting sick and dying from vaping was just the beginning. She wasn’t willing to roll the dice with her own life.

What happens next?

People who hear her speak ask if Katie quit because of the money it costs. She was spending about $100 a month. I get the impression it was never about the $100; it was about the deception she got caught up in. She’d ask me for “gas money” because she was secretly spending her gas money on vape supplies.

“I didn’t want to keep lying to my mom,” she says.

Katie vaped for 8 months. Many of her friends still vape. She says it’s tough to have this conversation with friends who haven’t had the revelation she’s gone through. But she’ll keep telling her story, hoping it empowers others to toss their vape devices, as she did, in a trash can far from home. To drive away, and never look back.

I don’t know the extent of Katie’s lung damage, or if there is any. We’ve talked about getting her lungs x-rayed to find out. Will we do that? I don’t know yet.

But during the last big snowstorm, Katie and her boyfriend Hank hiked up a ski run at Alta to enjoy the fresh Utah powder. The resort wasn’t open yet, but Katie saw it as a chance to test her lungs.

She returned home with a smile on her face and took a deep breath in front of me.

“It was exhilarating, Mom.”

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Opinion: My daughter’s vape addiction has become her mission