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What’s the Big Deal About Teen Vaping?

When it comes to what you put in your lungs, the rule is simple: if it’s not air, it shouldn’t be there.Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. But now, evidence is mounting that the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, is also unhealthy – and can even be deadly.

Thousands of Americans are suffering from severe respiratory illness linked to the use of e-cigarettes, and more than 40 people have died. In September 2019, health officials in London, Ont., reported the first known Canadian case of illness related to vaping – a high-school-aged youth who got so sick from vaping that they were placed on life support before eventually recovering. Since then, another 12 cases have been reported in Canada.

E-cigarettes make nicotine easily available and highly palatable to young adults. That’s because many “vape juices” contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance with serious health implications. Unlike cigarette smoke, vape juice comes in dozens of different flavours, many targeted at a youth audience. Flavours like green apple, cotton candy and peanut butter seem tailor made for teens.

The problem is that vape juices generally contain higher concentrations of nicotine than cigarettes do. Because the taste is more appealing than cigarette smoke, it’s easier for users to overdo it – and suffer the consequences.

Nicotine can affect memory and concentration and is known to alter brain development in teens – including reduced impulse control and increased cognitive and behavioural problems. That makes it harder for them to pay attention and learn, and may lead to addiction problems later in life.

In Canada, it’s illegal for vaping companies to promote kid-friendly flavours, push lifestyle benefits and make health claims. But a recent Globe and Mail investigation found that some vaping firms do all three on social media platforms like Instagram, making vaping seem cool and enticing to impressionable teens. The federal government is considering putting more restrictions on e-cigarette advertising.

Unfortunately, the popularity of vaping continues to grow at a rapid rate among young people. In a 2016–17 survey, 37% of Nova Scotia students in grades 7 to 12 had tried vaping at least once, the highest rate in Canada. Although Nova Scotia had made good progress in reducing the number of young people in the province who smoke, that progress is rapidly being erased by the prevalence of youth vaping.

In September 2019, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) called for tighter regulations around vaping. “Immediate action is needed to respond to the crisis in youth vaping. We have enough evidence from decades of work in tobacco control. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What we need is political commitment,” said Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the CMA.

That’s why Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) supports the provincial government for its recent decision to ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes and vaping juice in the province in an effort to deter youth from becoming addicted.

But it’s not enough.

To truly reduce the number of teens at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine as a result of vaping, the Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the government of Nova Scotia to amend the Tobacco Access Act to prohibit the sale of all tobacco and e-cigarette products to people under the age of 21 in Nova Scotia.

Right now, the legal age to buy these products in the province is 19. Most smokers start smoking by the age of 19, so raising the minimum purchasing age to 21 would help stop high-school kids from buying tobacco and vaping products from their peers.

Think about it: smokers aged 18 or 19 often supply tobacco and e-cigarette products for younger teens, who rely on friends or classmates for purchase. Given that students rarely reach 21 years old while in high school, increasing the age of sale would greatly reduce the number of high school-aged students who would have access to tobacco and e-cigarettes.

The fact is, more teens vaping puts more teens at risk of becoming hooked on nicotine, and it’s time we did something about it.

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