Youth and Vaping – a growing trend

The vaping rate is highest among young Canadians between 15 to 24 years old

Vaping’s popularity among youth has grown significantly over the past five years – and there is a lot of concern that this increase may have a negative impact on the overall health of our young people.

In March 2020, The Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey issued a new study (the first of its kind to provide detailed information about vaping) that show that more than one-third of teenagers 15 to 19 have tried vaping at some point in their lives, and 15 percent reported doing so in the past 30 days.

A study in 2018 led by Professor David Hammond of the University of Waterloo, found that not only had vaping increased among youth but also indicated that cigarette smoking among 16-19 year-olds increased by 45% in the same time period.  

This new data comes as a bit of a surprise for many, as until the vaping trend emerged, we had already made great strides in the reduction of youth and smoking.

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices are not considered safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or any adult who does not already use tobacco products.

So what’s the Appeal?

Vaping devices were originally designed as a way to stop smoking and kick the nicotine habit, the promotion of vaping as a “modern” and “healthier” way to smoke may play an important role in its appeal with youth and young adults.

Some of the larger vape companies have developed intensive marketing campaigns and innovative packaging that, although not specifically targeted towards youth, certainly do grab their attention.

Understanding the issues surrounding vaping, and its potential health effects is important for us as parents because the vaping market is evolving rapidly and new research studies coming to light nearly every week.

For example, the Canadian Medical Association Journal released an article on November 21, 2019, which reported on a case of life-threatening bronchiolitis related to electronic cigarette use by a Canadian teen. The authors concluded their article by calling for changes to the way e-cigarettes and vaping devices are regulated and urging people to educate themselves about the risks. 

Vaping is the act of inhaling the aerosol, or ‘vape’ from an e-cigarette or similar vaping device. While the output of the device may look like smoke, it is actually the vapor created by the combustion of an oil or liquid.

E- liquids in vaping products are composed most often of propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with chemical flavorings. E-liquids may also contain nicotine and cannabis extracts like cannabis oils.

What’s the concern?

Vaping began as a way for adult smokers to quit smoking tobacco and inhaling the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. Some kids may try vaping to help them stop smoking, as they are marketed to adults as a smoking cessation aid, but vaping is not considered safe for non-smokers, teens, and young adults.

Since May 2018, vaping products are permitted to contain nicotine, and the level of nicotine can vary widely.

Some e-liquids have low levels, while others can contain more nicotine than in a typical cigarette. Nicotine exposure in teens and young adults is concerning because it is an extremely addictive substance.

Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can affect memory, concentration, impulse control as well as cognitive and behavioural problems. Vaping may predispose youth to addiction to nicotine and possibly other drugs.

Even if a vaping product does not contain nicotine, there is still an increased risk of being exposed to other harmful chemicals.

In January 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies.

 The report made clear that there is conclusive evidence that using e-cigarettes causes health risks. It also concluded that e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances.

The long-term effects of vaping are still unknown, however, several short-term effects include cough, wheezing and a worsening of asthma symptoms.

The bottom line is that the inhalation of any harmful chemicals can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease.

Vaping and Cannabis

Cannabis products containing concentrated levels of THC, such as hash oil, can be vaped with an e-cigarette. Dried cannabis can also be vaped in the cartridge of the e-cigarettes. It is more discrete and less noticeable when young people consume cannabis oils and concentrates using a vaporizer rather than smoking dried cannabis in a joint or a pipe, as it does not leave a telltale smell.

In the US – vaping THC killed 60 people and 1000s had cases of serious lung disease. Cannabis products that are purchased illegally through the black or grey market risk being contaminated with additives or chemicals carrying THC oils that are dangerous to inhale.

It’s important to note that cannabis products like cannabis oils and concentrates for use in vaping devices are legal for retail sale only at licensed outlets in Canada.

Signs that your teen might be vaping:

Vaping is not always easy to detect. Unlike tobacco, it has no lingering odor and some vaping paraphernalia is so small, it can be easily hidden in a pocket or hoodie.

You may notice:

  • Vaping equipment such as pipes, USB sticks, cigarettes with mouthpieces or ‘chambers’ attached, e-liquids, as well as anything that looks like it could be inhaled.
  • Unusual credit card purchases online, or unexpected packages arriving at your home
  • Un-explained scents such as bubble gum, chocolate, lemon pie, etc.
  • Increased thirst and appetite, red eyes and nosebleeds
  • Your teen texting or using vaping jargon such as: ‘juice’ JUUL, ‘APV’ (Advanced Personal Vaporizer) or ‘atty’ (atomizer) or ‘sauce.’
  • Dried cannabis or cannabis oils

Talk with your teen about vaping

Just like smoking, conversations about vaping are very important to have with your pre-teen or teen, the earlier the better. You are in the best position to help your teen understand the health consequences of vaping and by actively listening to what your teen is saying, you can help to keep the dialogue going.

For more information about vaping, and practical tips on how to start an open and honest conversation about Vaping with your child: Download DFK’s Youth and Vaping Guide.