Youth vaping on the rise
By Darren Lum
Published April 23, 2019
There was once an era when it was common to see cigarettes hanging off the lips of people on the street and those on the silver screen. Vaping is now taking centre stage, and is a cause of concern as its popularity among the general population and youth in particular is rising.
Vaping involves “inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. Vaping doesn’t require burning like cigarette smoking. The device heats a liquid into a vapour, which then turns into aerosol. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine,” according to the Government of Canada’s website.
Vaping products are also known as mods, vapes, sub-ohms, vape pens, e-hookahs, tank systems, electronic cigarettes/e-cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).
A group of six senior Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students, the majority in Grade 12 and one in her fifth year shared their insight about vaping. They have all tried it and know it is present and available at parties.
Fifth-year student Madeline Hopkins recalls about three years ago when restrictions hadn’t yet been established at the high school and the province..
“I remember walking into the cafeteria one day – this was before any of the laws had been passed prohibiting people from vaping inside – the cafeteria was so cloudy and it smelled like cotton candy,” she said. “It was a few weeks of unknown waters. People didn’t know how to behave and it was the weirdest thing. Everywhere was cloudy. After that everybody had vapes. Everybody.”
The 2016-17 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey showed 23 per cent of Canadian students have tried vaping, which is up from 20 per cent in 2014-2015.
“When you were younger no one did it and everyone thought it was bad and against it. It started to shift [over the past few years],” Hopkins said.
Grade 12 student Chloé Samson admits to trying it, but said she hasn’t felt social pressure to do so.
The group said there is stigma related to smoking cigarettes which isn’t present for vaping.
“People are more against smoking cigarettes and are more for smoking e-cigarettes. I don’t know if it has to do with the flavours or [because it’s] easy, portable. Everyone is more into e-cigarettes,” Samson said.
The group offered insight into what they’ve heard about why young people vape.
“A lot of teenagers that do it frequently say they like the nic rush, the rush of nicotine. You hear that a lot,” Hopkins said.
Josie Quigley, a Grade 12 student, laughed and said another reason people vape is the tricks they can do. The group also said student-athletes, who it might be assumed are more health-oriented, are vaping.
The students said there are often two groups at parties; a small one for cannabis smokers and larger one for e-cigarettes, which are passed around. They agreed the smell of burning cannabis puts people off compared to the pleasant smell of flavoured vaping juice such as mango (an apparent favourite). Vaping products can be easily bought online and distributed to others.
According to the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, it is prohibited to furnish, send, or deliver vaping products to a young person. The legal age to purchase vaping products is 19 and older. According to the Government of Canada, federally, there are not any imposed restrictions regarding the use of e-cigarettes, or sale of e-cigarettes and vaping accessories in Canada. All regulations are being handled provincially and municipally.
Quigley said for some in the Highlands vaping is likely used as a method of coping.
“One of the main problems is that there’s few coping mechanisms and few mental health helps in Haliburton County. I think it is used as a crutch a lot of the time,” she said.
The group agreed to speak publicly in the paper to raise awareness in the community and with teachers.
“We’re here stating our opinion. It’s not like we’re walking around the hallways like waving posters, saying, ‘Don’t vape.’ At the same time we’ve all been at parties where people are doing it. We never say, ‘Don’t do that,’” Samson said.
The group referenced the e-cigarette brand, JUUL, which resembles a memory stick. They believe it is marketed to youth due to its discreet appearance and the flavours available such as mint, vanilla and fruit. A JUUL device kit (includes charging dock and device) costs about $45 before tax. Online, JUUL pods are sold as four pack, which costs about $21 before tax.
The students said vaping can be concealed by holding in a breath, waiting for it to dissipate.
Cameras have been used as evidence to catch students vaping, they said. However, cameras are not in classes, bathrooms or change rooms, which is where some students secretly vape.
HHSS principal Chris Boulay is aware of this rising trend and has been behind a group effort to provide resources to raise awareness.
“That’s our role as educators is to share the information with our stakeholders and then let the students make good decisions,” he said.
Boulay admits more is needed and is open to ideas on how to reach students.
The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School website directs parents and guardians concerned about vaping to go to the Government of Canada’s website where there are resources such as posters available for schools and information. The school has received the posters and will post them soon, provided information in health classes promoting a healthy lifestyle, and has planned upcoming information presentation (one for Grade 9/10 and one for Grade 11/12 and Grade 11/12 students) led by health promoter Jennifer Valcamp with HKPR Health Unit. One had been scheduled, but was postponed.
Boulay said HHSS is going to be included in the government-sponsored National Consequence Tour.
The school expects the tour to come to HHSS in 2020, possibly March. The tour engages students with activities, which cover the health hazards such as how vaping with nicotine can lead to nicotine addiction, lung damage, how nicotine can alter teen brain development and that the long-term health impacts are unknown.
Jenn Sharp, mother of two boys at HHSS and secretary with the HHSS School Council, wrote in an email the school’s efforts are a “great start to making youth more aware of the health concerns associated with vaping.” She described the high school principal as “very supportive of this initiative.”
“The HHSS students will have exposure to the facts about vaping through this education but ongoing/regular education would be essential. Starting the education prior to high school may prove to be beneficial as well. Parents need access to more resources to be able to help their child understand the widely underestimated health risks and to identify if their child is vaping,” she wrote.
Boulay said the high school’s school council raised concerns about vaping back in March.
He said the meeting included questions about what the school is doing, if youth are vaping, what’s happening at the school, if enforcement has been involved, and what education is being offered to the kids and community.
He adds raising awareness among faculty is also important and is being done in a variety of ways.
“Sometimes we have to send the same information seven different times, seven different ways, right? This is just another way of doing it,” he said, referring to the scheduled presentation by the health unit, posters, posted web information, sharing CBC article with staff.
Boulay said vaping has increased throughout society and should be a focus for the provincial and federal governments.
“It’s not just a Haliburton issue. It’s a cross-Ontario, cross-Canada issue,” he said. “Vaping is going to have to be the new focus for these particular governments in order to make sure students and adults make good, healthy decisions.”
The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health recently released a statement warning that vaping can alter “parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.”
The same statement recommended parents or youth allies “start a conversation. Talk with children and teens about the risks of vaping. Educate yourself about these products and be a positive role model. Know the rules on vaping and smoking at your child’s school.”
Catherine Shedden, TLDSB district manager of corporate communications, provided an excerpt from the board’s code of conduct that a student may not “smoke or hold any lighted medical cannabis or lighted tobacco product, including e-cigarettes or vaporizers, on school property, school buses, or at school activities or events.”
“The school board works in close partnership with our health units. The information and resources shared by HHHS were shared with TLDSB from our health unit. An increase in the number of students vaping may be due to the perception that it is a safe alternative to smoking. The consequences for not following the TLDSB Code of Conduct are outlined in the procedure [found online],” she wrote in an email. “With the recent update to the Smoke-free Ontario Act, tobacco control officers from our health units are visiting schools to provide signage and resources indicating that there can be no smoking or vaping within 20 metres of a school. These officers have the right to issue a fine to anyone they find vaping within this distance.”
The health unit said the fine for vaping on school property is $305 and is the same for smoking. There have not been any fines issued by an enforcement officers on Haliburton County school properties in the last year or this year to date.
As for the general population, under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017, you cannot smoke or vape in any enclosed workplace, any enclosed public place and other places designated as smoke-free and vape-free. If you smoke or vape where it is not allowed, you may be charged with an offence and subject to a fine ($1,000 for a first offence, $5,000 for any further offence) if convicted.
Vaping has been marketed as an option for smokers in their effort to quit. Vaping normally exposes the user to lower levels of chemicals and contaminants than cigarette smoke. Despite this difference, Health Canada said second-hand inhalation of vapours is not harmless, but contains “far fewer chemicals than second-hand smoke. The health effects from exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown.” Vaping also provides the user the ability to modulate the level of nicotine.
Although rare, This was mostly associated with vaping when it first started.
The HKPR Health Unit’s public health nurse Karen Taylor said the basic message is “if you do not smoke, do not vape. Do not start with vaping. What happens is they may be vaping a product they think has no nicotine. Depending on the supplier of the product, there may be nicotine in there. If there is nicotine in there they may become addicted to nicotine.”
There are known health risks with vaping. Some of these are related to nicotine, which is very addictive and can hamper the brain development of anyone under 25. The nicotine level can vary depending on the vaping vehicle. Symptoms of too much nicotine include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting.
Taylor said addiction to nicotine could start with vaping and provide an entry to cigarette smoking.
“The e-liquid ... if somebody doesn’t know what they’re using the juice can be the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes,” she said. “If someone doesn’t get the nicotine that they are accustomed to ... they may go from an electronic cigarette to a cigarette. We know some people are using both. We know some youth are using cigarettes and e-cigarettes together.”
Some of the health risks are related to chemicals in e-cigarette juice, such as vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol. Although safe in cosmetics and sweeteners, the long-term effects of inhaling these substances in vaping products is unknown.
Popcorn lung is a known incurable respiratory disease related to vaping that comes from prolonged exposure to the chemical diacetyl, which is added for flavour and has been used to give microwave popcorn a rich and buttery flavour.
Also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, popcorn lung is a long-term condition that damages the lung tissues and the smallest airways, leaving untreatable scarring. This disease can lead to persistent skin, eye, mouth, or nose irritation, unexplained exhaustion, breathing difficulties causing coughing and shortness of breath.
“So some adults may have it, but [it’s from] using vaping products and tobacco products long term. Imagine an adolescent having popcorn lung, being diagnosed with that in their teens or in their early 20s as a young adult and going on for a lifetime? If it can be avoided, avoid it,” Taylor said.
Taylor cited a report by the US Surgeon General, which has recommended banning the JUUL product, which is also popular locally. In 2018, the US Surgeon General released a report, which in part said, “One of the most commonly sold versions is JUUL, which now has more than a 70 per cent share of the cartridge-based e-cigarette market in the United States.”
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centre for Disease Control have warned teens and young adults against using e-cigarettes. This past autumn, the FDA called youth vaping an “epidemic.”
JUUL Labs, which is one of the largest producers in the world, has been public about how it wants to work with the U.S. government towards solving underage use of their products.
Among the actions include pulling flavoured products from U.S. stores (not Canada) and after removing: much of its social media presence by deleting Facebook and Instagram accounts and halting promotional posts on Twitter.
The effort to reduce underage e-cigarette use will take a co-ordinated effort.
Taylor said the health unit is working through its school health liaisons to communicate with principals and teachers about e-cigarettes.
She said the health unit’s website includes information, but also welcomes parents/guardians queries. She can be reached at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 2240. Other resources include health care providers, the Smokers Help Line, and Kids Help Phone.