Dear Dr. Wallace:

I am writing to you because I don’t know what to do. I’m 15 and have an older brother who is 17. He’s a good brother, and he gets along well with our parents and me.

I’ve never known my brother to smoke, drink or do any type of drug. But something happened that has me very worried. A few days ago, I was riding my bike over to my friend’s house after dinner to pick up some homework I had left there after school that day. My friend lives about a mile away from our house, so it does not take me too long to get there. Well, it was just a little after dusk, so it was already starting to get darker outside by the minute. I rode my bike a different route than I usually do because it was dark and I felt safer on the main roads.

As I came around the corner of one street, I could hear familiar laughing. It sounded like my brother! As I rode by, I turned to look in the direction of the sound and there was my older brother with two other guys from his class at school. They were near some trash bins by the side of a house, under a light. I could see them, but they couldn’t really see me very well. They were not looking in my direction anyway. The next thing I noticed was a huge cloud of smoke drifting up into the light on the side of that house. I stopped riding my bike behind a parked car so I could take a closer look at what was going on. It was then that I saw they were vaping! They were all passing around a vaping device and each boy was definitely “smoking” from it. I stayed and watched until I saw my brother take three long pulls from this device.

My problem is that I don’t want to confront my brother because he will say I was spying on him. I’m afraid to tell my parents about this, but I’m so worried about my brother’s health. There has been a lot of talk at school and at home from my parents about the dangers of vaping. I know that several young people have recently died all around America from vaping. I don’t want my brother to die, but I don’t want to confront him or tell on him either. Help!

— Little Brother,

via email

Dear Little Brother: Tell your parents about this immediately. Vaping can indeed be quite dangerous in some circumstances, depending on what substance is being inhaled. Many unregulated devices and cartridges have entered the market due to the recent popularity of this activity. Some of them can truly wreak havoc on a user’s lungs. You and I don’t know what device or substances your brother was using, but there is indeed something you can do to help him: Tell your parents immediately. Ask your parents not to mention that it was you who saw your brother vaping. They can say that someone in the community contacted them about your brother, having seen what was going on. Your brother never has to know how your parents knew to confront him.

This way your parents can have an open discussion with your brother (and you!) about the potential dangers of vaping. Do this right away. You’ll be helping your brother in the long run, and you will be easing your worried mind, too. It’s great that you care for your brother so much. Do the right thing to help him.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.