By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you’re worried your teenager might be vaping, a quick test could help clear the air. WCCO visited a Twin Cities lab where curious parents are using test results to snuff out an alarming epidemic.

As the aunt of a 16-year-old, Liz Spenny has warned of the dangers of vaping.

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“We have talked a lot about it, actually,” Spenny said.

A test to check, suddenly has her niece Sadie Morken listening more closely.

“You wouldn’t want to try it if you could be caught doing it,” Morken said.

Alex Lamkin, at Any Lab Test Now in Plymouth, knows the subject can be uncomfortable. So can the test. Blue toilet water and a dry sink keep results accurate, so kids can’t dilute the results.

“There are times when kids absolutely do not want to come in, that’s probably a sign they’re doing something they probably are not supposed to be doing,” Lamkin said.

He offers two types of tests for parents to see if their kid is one of the 20 percent of Minnesota high school students using e-cigarettes.

“If they’re trying to see, if it’s a one-time use recently, a urine test is going to be sufficient,” Lamkin said.

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Lamkin recommends that $50 test to parents who believe vaping has happened in the last few days. If you want to look back farther, he says a hair follicle test for $120 is a better bet. A good choice if parents think their child might stop vaping to pass the test. The hair test goes back three months.

Both detect nicotine in a teenager’s system, called “cotinine” once it’s metabolized in the body. In this test, parents learned their kid had been vaping in the last few days.

Even though e-cigarette smoke doesn’t have the carcinogens tobacco smoke does, doctors say people who vape still run the risk of heart disease, lung and bladder cancers.

If they won’t listen to health effects, Lamkin believes the test alone send a message.

“They might not be vaping at all, but if they know that is available and that it’s an option then that might deter them from using altogether,” he said.

A tool to detect an addiction in the early stages often hidden in plain sight.

Lab results take a few days to get back. So do you tell your teenager before you bring them in for a test or surprise them with it? We sat down with the medical director of Hazelden’s youth services who says it’s better to be a parent and not a parole officer. Dr. Joseph Lee walks through the best approach in the video below.


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Liz Collin