“It is the wild west on vaping products,” Les Hagen with Action on Smoking and Health said on Monday. “The federal and provincial governments have had a lot of time to act. They were kind of looking at each other, wondering who would move first but unfortunately, in the meantime, all of these marketing firms and vaping companies moved in and decided to create a youth epidemic.”
Health Canada’s 2018-19 survey, released in December, found the rate of e-cigarette use among students doubled compared to the last survey, two years ago. About 25 per cent of Grade 7 to 12 students got vaping products from retail stores or online.
The province is currently reviewing legislation around vaping and tobacco use. The results are expected to be released sometime this spring.
Feedback from companies like JUUL and Imperial Tobacco posted on the province’s website argue vaping products are meant to help transition people from smoking. The companies also agree vaping should be for adults only but believe flavours and prominent advertising should remain.
Hagen said that for every smoker who quits thanks to vaping, about 80 kids pick up the habit.
“That’s not a good return,” he said. “The experience is something different than what was anticipated. It is because of aggressive predatory marketing campaigns and these new stealth flavoured devices that has really turned things around.”
Hagen said vaping should align with Alberta’s existing tobacco laws.
Health advocates aren’t the only ones raising alarms about the rise of vaping in local schools.
Last June, the Edmonton Police Service teamed up with the University of Alberta’s faculty of nursing to address the issue.
Police visited retailers over the summer to issue compliance letters to ensure businesses followed the law while nursing students took the lead by offering presentations to schools.
Kerry Rusk, an assisting teaching professor at the faculty of nursing, said more than 2,100 Edmonton youth attended seminars between September to December last year.
“The demand remains high for these presentations,” she said. “ This year alone, (school resource officers) reported having more confiscated vaping products than any other previous years. Stronger legislation is needed to protect our children from these nicotine vaping products.”
Alberta also recently approved the sale of cannabis vape products, which Hagen said doesn’t help the situation.
“Whether a five-year-old sees someone smoking or vaping or toking — it doesn’t matter,” he added. “To a five-year-old, it is all smoking. The more kids see this happening in public places, the more likely they will become smokers themselves.”
Alberta recorded its first serious lung illness linked to vaping back in January and marked the 15th known case of vaping-related illness in Canada, at the time.