“I can quit anytime I want.”
Dr. Richard Stanwick, the chief medical officer for Island Health, says if that refrain sounds familiar, it should. It’s one of the many rationalizations that smokers once trotted out as they diminished the impact of smoking in their lives.
These days it’s being used by young people who have taken to vaping in near epidemic proportions.
“They have changed the composition of the liquid cartridges so that it mimics the fast hit (of nicotine) that you used to get from a cigarette,” Stanwick says.
“Combine that with the fact that they’ve created candy and fruit flavours and made the devices far more cool looking so that they look a lot like a USB stick, decorated with all kinds of designs, and they are obviously targeting young people.”
It’s one of the reasons the Sooke school district held a panel discussion in early May to address what educators described as an epidemic of vaping among the community’s teens.
“This has emerged very quickly, and as much as we don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction, we must acknowledge we are seeing a lot more of it in our high schools and even at the middle school levels,” says Dave Strange, the district’s associate superintendent.
“We’re actively engaged to develop a strategy and the educational materials we need. We’re well aware of this epidemic and are working hard so our students are making informed choices.”
But the approach may be too little to stem the tide, Stanwick says.
“Eighteen months ago we had information that one-in-four students in high schools and middle schools had tried the devices. Now, the information we’re getting says that it’s one-in-two,” he says.
Stanwick says many of the marketing strategies used to promote cigarettes are now being applied to vaping, particularly to children.
“That’s no accident. In December 2018, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, the leading cigarette manufacturer in the U.S., made a $12.8-billion investment to buy 35 per cent of the e-cigarette (vaping) company Juul,” he says.
“They are applying the same strategy they used with cigarettes: you hook ‘em young and you hook ‘em forever.”
And while Stanwick is quick to point out that cigarettes are far more harmful than vaping, people should remember that vaping is still taking in nicotine, an addictive substance.
Besides nicotine, vape can include ultra-fine particles inhaled deep into the lungs, flavorants such as diacetyl (a chemical linked to serious lung disease), volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals.
But not all vaping advocates are sold on the dangers of vaping and take particular issue with the idea that their products are being marketed to young people.
“I don’t know that the marketing is for children, but the flavours are delicious,” said Deryl Townsend, the owner of Lit Up Smoke and Vapour Accessories in Sooke when asked about the candy and fruit flavoured products he sells in his store.
He noted there are products in the liquor stores like root beer infused with vodka and asked if that would be considered marketing to children.
“We all like the same flavours … people like root beer. I wouldn’t say that they are marketing that product to kids.”
Townsend insists everyone in the industry promotes responsible sales.
But a new study led by professor David Hammond of the University of Waterloo reported that the take up of vaping products in Canada has jumped from 8.4 to 14.6 percent of teens between 16 and 19.
Much of that increase came after Juul introduced a delivery system that uses benzoic acid and nicotine slat technology to deliver higher concentrations of nicotine than the traditional e-cigarettes.
Another part of the study suggested the delivery systems increase the potential for nicotine addiction and the move to smoking cigarettes.
The study also showed, between 2017 and 2018, a 45 percent increase in cigarette smoking, after years of decline prior to the introduction of new vaping technologies.
Stanwick said the medical community and schools must become more vocal with governments to get rid of the child-like flavours and review the sale of vaping products online.
“We have the very real possibility of getting a whole generation of young people addicted to this substance,” Stanwick says.
“We’re in chapter one or two of this horror novel, and it’s time we take action to change the way it all ends.”