Teen vaping almost doubles in last year

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc. / milinz

Officials are calling vaping by young people an “epidemic” in the United States and, while Canadian numbers are similar, officials in Ontario aren’t going that far yet.

The United State Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published its yearly report and focused on vaping numbers, particularly among high school seniors. The study showed the use of vaping almost doubled from last year as 21 per cent of Grade 12 students admitted to vaping nicotine products in the previous 30 days. The number jumped to 25 per cent for vaping flavoured liquids.

According to Jeff Moco, youth engagement coordinator with Chatham-Kent Public Health, Canada is roughly six months to a year behind when it comes to studying vaping but added the known current numbers are similar to those in the States. He said key researchers in Ontario have been tracking the numbers.

“The Propel research Centre at the University of Waterloo says we are mirroring what’s happening there,” Moco said. “With rates increasing almost 80 per cent in one year, the FDA is calling it an epidemic, but we’re not really saying that here in Ontario just yet. There’s definitely an uptick and it is certainly receiving a lot of attention.”

Moco said a big reason for the increase is that Ontario decided against banning vaping advertising. According to Moco, Ontario planned to prohibit any promotion of the product on July 1, 2018, but decided to go in another direction.

“If you’ve gone into a gas station recently, you’ll see ads on the pumps, giant display ads in stores and it’s not telling people to quit or not use these,” Moco said. “It makes it look like a lifestyle like you’re going to get some kind of allure or coolness when you use these. Several stores are covering up their plain tobacco areas with lifestyle vape advertising which goes against the spirit of why these were covered up in the first place.”

Moco said the issue stems from a ban on the advertisement of tobacco products, but not necessarily all products containing nicotine.

“When is the last time you’ve heard of pro-smoking anything on the radio, T.V. or the newspapers? It just hasn’t happened in Ontario in forever,” Moco said.

He added there are big name vaping brands, like JUUL, entering the Canadian marketplace. He said the company has a huge social media presence, which is how it can advertise to youth. He added the company agreed to remove flavoured products from its pods in America but hasn’t announced it will do the same in Canada. Moco said the company also uses salt nicotine instead of its regular form. The salt version is less harsh on the throat when it is used.

“You get more nicotine per puff, so the addictive nature fo them can be increased because you’re getting more in your body quicker,” Moco said. “For some young people who have never been exposed to that, they underestimate the pull it has on their brain.”

Moco said one of the most alarming things he is seeing is that youth smoking isn’t going down as much as it had been and in some cases, it is actually increasing. Moco added young people who vape nicotine are two to three times more likely to move onto tobacco.

“We are hopeful this isn’t a trend that will continue, but if it is then we really need to look at how these are products are regulated, advertised, and accessed by young people,” Moco said. “You can’t buy them because you have to be 19, however, people get them in their hands because you can buy them online pretty easily.”

Moco added there is a lot of confusion from youth users over what they are actually consuming. He said many teens believe it is just water vapour, which isn’t the case.

“When I talk to young people who are having problems stopping using these products, they didn’t see any harm in them when they started,” Moco said. “Our message for people is that if you’re not smoking you shouldn’t be vaping either. These products aren’t harmless. There are no longterm studies to figure out what these will do to you with exposed longer use. We just can’t say they’re harmless, but I think young people really do believe they are harmless.”

Moco said there have been studies done recently that imply vaping could increase heart risks. But he said it is too early to tell what problems it can cause long-term. He said while studies show vaping is better than smoking cigarettes, new smokers and youth seem to be the main demographic.

He added those who have been smoking for years or decades are trying other methods to quit because they want to quit altogether instead of just switching to a new form of smoking.

Moco said he’s had referrals from schools because of students being addicted to vaping. While the practice is banned in schools, he said many students who are addicted find it harder to concentrate in class and attend school late or leave school early to get their fix.

“Young people are going through withdrawal and you see relationship issues with their family,” Moco said. “Behaviourly and relationship wise these things are causing problems. This is what people and parents tell me.”

Moco said he doesn’t have official numbers but believes youth vaping would be lower in Chatham-Kent, because they are very expensive devices. He said vaping would be more prevalent among youth with part-time jobs or teens attending post-secondary schools, so numbers would be higher in communities with colleges and universities like London and Windsor.

Moco added from his experience males are more likely to vape than females, but there is no specific type that vapes. He referred to vaping as a “real-life sociological experiment.”

“It’s really interesting,” Moco said. “With cannabis being legalized I was under the assumption more people would want to vape cannabis because they get something out of it, versus nicotine vaping where you’re just smoking it for a cherry flavour.”

Ultimately Maco said it’s hard to know specifically what kinds of vapes people are using and it is going to take some time to study before a conclusion can officially be made.