New research suggests vaping among Canadian teens skyrocketed by 74 per cent in a single year, and that new brands of e-cigarettes are gaining a foothold following federal legislation.
University of Waterloo professor David Hammond, who led the study of youth vaping in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., said the findings reflect the risks of the “newest evolution of vaping.”
The researchers say an online survey found the number of Canadian participants aged 16 to 19 who reported vaping in the previous month rose from 8.4 per cent in 2017 to 14.6 per cent last year.
Rates of weekly use climbed to 9.3 per cent from 5.2 per cent over the same time period.
In May 2018, Ottawa formally legalized vaping, opening the door for international vaping brands — some backed by big tobacco companies — to enter the Canadian market.
Weeks after becoming available in Canada, some of these vaping brands ranked among the most popular with teens, along with similar high-nicotine products, said Hammond. In the U.S., researchers found parallels between the rise of these brands and a surge in youth vaping, he said.
The study also indicated that conventional cigarette use among participants increased from 10.7 per cent in 2017 to 15.5 per cent the following year, deviating from decades of research suggesting youth smoking in Canada was on the decline, Hammond said.
Hammond said he hopes the results are just a “blip,” but said it would be worrisome if other studies came to the same conclusion.
The research paper published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal is based on two waves of online surveys conducted in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. in July and August 2017 and August and September 2018. Data was collected from a sample of 7,891 Canadians recruited through commercial panels.
The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
E-cigarettes can be an effective tool for adult smokers trying to quit, but Hammond said policy-makers need to be proactive in preventing young Canadians from picking up the habit.
“What the government and public-health authorities need to do is find some balance to allow adult smokers to have access to these products, without creating a new generation of nicotine users,” Hammond said. “We haven’t got that balance right yet.”
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said the government must take immediate action to level the scales.
“Clearly, the current situation is not working,” said Cunningham. “Therefore, we need to move quickly.”
Cunningham said Ottawa needs to tighten up advertising rules for vaping products to make them at least as restrictive as those for cannabis.
Federal legislation allows for some advertising of vaping products, but promotions targeted at youth are prohibited.
In January, Health Canada proposed new measures to bar these advertisements from venues where young people are likely to be exposed to them, including public places, retail stores and youth-oriented media. It also launched a multi-phase campaign to educate teens about the risks associated with vaping at a young age.
A spokesperson for Health Canada could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cunningham also urged federal lawmakers to strengthen regulations on the use of flavoured vaping products, and said provinces should ban their sale except in adult-only specialty stores.
Most provinces have legislation on vaping products, and Cunningham said the only two outliers, Alberta and Saskatchewan, must follow suit.
He also called on provincial governments to follow many U.S. states in raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21. As it stands, anyone 18 and over can purchase vaping or tobacco products in Canada.
“We have made such incredible progress to reduce youth smoking, and now we have a situation whereby a new generation of teenagers are becoming addicted to vaping products,” he said. “We cannot stand still and allow that to happen.”
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press