Laura Dern Says Being a Mother Inspired Her to Warn Teens About the Dangers of E-Cigarettes

Laura Dern Says Being a Mother Inspired Her to Warn Teens About the Dangers of E-Cigarette Usage
Laura Dern Says Being a Mother Inspired Her to Warn Teens About the Dangers of E-Cigarette Usage

Mark Seliger

Laura Dern is sharing how her role as a mother has inspired her latest partnership with the American Lung Association.

While recently chatting with PEOPLE about the organization and its new Vape-Free Schools Initiative, the 54-year-old actress opened up about why she is speaking out in support of educating teens about the dangers of e-cigarette usage.

As the mother to two teens — son Ellery and daughter Jaya, whom she shares with her ex-husband, Ben Harper — Dern tells PEOPLE exclusively that she knows the dangers that vaping currently poses to her kids' generation. "We are in a terrifying time as we look at the growth alone that has occurred in the last four years with vaping amongst our youth and in this country," she says.

"I am raising teenagers and around a lot of teenagers that I know and love, and it is so shocking to witness a group of kids who were the first generation to say ... when they saw a parent with a cigarette, when they were five, six years old, 'What are you doing? You're going to die,' " she continues. "Because the messaging, thanks to an organization like the American Lung Association, and culture itself, this was the generation that knew smoking kills and addiction to nicotine is terrifying. We felt like we were at the end of a tragic crisis."

"And tragically this generation, now only a few years later as teenagers, it has been messaged to them that vaping is a safer alternative. That it's hip, that it's popular, that it's just cool, fruit-flavored juice and that there's no danger. That it's the safe alternative to smoking," Dern adds. "And, as we know, this is absolutely, tragically the opposite of true."

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Woman Vaping
Woman Vaping

Getty

According to a National Youth Tobacco Survey that was released back in September 2020, almost 20% of high school students are currently vaping, marking an epidemic that Dern calls "terrifying."

Now, the American Lung Association is offering support and training through its Vape-Free Schools Initiative, a "new scholarship fund that equips schools with resources to prevent and reduce youth vaping and provides kids more access to cessation, support and education," per the organization.

And Dern says she is grateful for the work of the American Lung Association, which is "so deeply focused on the environment and the environmental hazards that people are facing in terms of lung health."

"And obviously, in this last year-plus with the [COVID-19] pandemic, they have done such extraordinary work and fundraising," she adds.

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Dern also recognizes the impact that the ongoing pandemic has had on teens' mental health.

"Specifically to this initiative, we are dealing with — separate from a pandemic — the epidemic amongst our youth and teens of generalized anxiety and depression through this time," she says.

The Marriage Story star continues, "As adults we know when anxieties are high, how easy it is to rely on a habit or a vice to get through."

"... And [while] vaping, e-cigarettes and nicotine itself might seem like a popular resource to handle anxiety, we need to be there culturally, and as a community, to give educators and schools and students the knowledge about different ways to manage stress and anxiety and the repercussions of something like this," she adds.

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When Dern is not educating her kids about the dangers of vaping, the proud mom says she loves watching them grow into adults.

When asked if Ellery, 19, or Jaya, 16, is planning to pursue a career in the entertainment industry like their famous parents, Dern explains it is a possibility.

"They certainly come from a few generations of artists on both sides," she tells PEOPLE. "From their dad's side, it's two generations of musicians, and from my side, it's two generations of acting. And even great grandparents that were incredibly creative, artistic people."

"So I'm not sure what their path will be, but it seems they're certainly expressing that they feel an artistic path," she adds. "We'll see what they do, but they love film, they love music, they love fine art and design. So it's exciting to discover them, really, in their own artistic path and to discover that part of them."