/Youth vaping rates ‘quite alarming’: health unit

Youth vaping rates ‘quite alarming’: health unit

By Sue Tiffin

Youth vaping – that is, use of vaping products by those under 19 years of age – was declared an epidemic in Dec. 2018 by the U.S. Surgeon General. 

“Vaping is our predominant concern right now,” Robert Hewitt, tobacco control officer with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit told the board in an April 21 meeting.

Hewitt said electronic cigarettes became available in 2004, and vaping rates have increased in the last four years. The current past 30 day use rate is 15 per cent for 15-to-19-year-olds, said Hewitt, “which is quite alarming.”

He said from speaking to kids at high schools, there is no challenge to obtain electronic cigarettes, and that complaints of underage sales are increasing year over year. In 2019, there were zero complaints of sales of vaping products to those under 19, while in 2022 there have been four complaints so far.

“The numbers are very minimal but I want to stress that it’s very unusual and rare for a person to pick up the phone and complain to us about this concern,” said Hewitt. “Even though the numbers are small, it’s sort of the tip of the iceberg of what’s really going on out there.”

Hewitt said there are different rules for tobacco and vapour product vendors. Tobacco vendors convicted twice within a five-year period for selling to underage people can lose the right to sell tobacco for six months, but there’s no such provision in the legislation for vapour product vendors, who often face a monetary fine instead.

In schools throughout the region, in 2021, 117 warning letters were issued for students vaping on school property. As of March 29 this year, 30 warning letters have been issued, and three charges for repeat offenders in 2022.

“Students vaping in the school washrooms is the most common reason for a witness report to be submitted,” said Hewitt. 

He said vendor inspections show a significant increase in non-compliance and that warnings and charges “have gone up dramatically.” 

While in 2018, 742 inspections were conducted, 39 charges issued, and 49 warnings issued. In 2022, there were 267 inspections (significantly fewer due to the health unit’s focus on pandemic issues), 16 charges issued but 270 warnings issued. 

Hewitt said there was a need to focus on gaining compliance, and that test shopping inspections will begin in June. Additionally, he said Health Canada is currently looking at reviewing the tobacco vaping products act, a federal legislation, to limit the number of flavours available, as kids have become addicted based on that. Health Canada “missed the boat,” he said, when the vaping devices first became available as they went highly unregulated the first few years after their introduction, allowing vaping companies to advertise to youth.

“The biggest challenge we face is that the vaping products contain nicotine, nicotine is the most addictive substance on the planet,” he said. “Once they try it, we know from the studies that were done in regards to tobacco, to become addicted to smoking, tobacco companies had it down to a point that, two puffs off your first cigarette started developing the chemical pathways in your brain to the part called the pleasure centre that made you want to have it again.”

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said she and her husband were shocked on a recent vacation to see how many people were vaping, noting youth were seeing adults normalize it.

John Henderson, vice-chair of the board, said he remembered learning during one of his first health unit board meetings of the effects of vaping on the lungs, even in a young, star athlete, and asked if students were aware of these outcomes through an education program. 

Hewitt said the challenge with vaping products is that longterm studies are not available. While tobacco will kill one of every two people, he said, longterm effects are not yet known about vaping products, though a chemical additive responsible for deaths a few years ago has been removed. Presentations in schools are in high demand, he said, in order to address issues of smoking in washrooms. He said in the past two months, of the students vaping on school property, about 20 per cent of them were vaping cannabis. 

Hewitt said the health unit does accept reporting complaints from both the public or another vendor concerned about their counterparts not complying with the law. He encouraged people to reach out, anonymous complaints are accepted, and he or Lorne Jordan, tobacco control officer for Northumberland County, will look into each of the complaints. The number to call is 1-866-888-4577.