October 26th, 2020

Vaping a growing concern

By Submitted Article on November 27, 2019.

Anyone who keeps up with the news has heard of the severe lung illness associated with vaping products. To date there have been more than 2,290 confirmed cases and 47 deaths in the U.S. The rising rate of illness and deaths has led governments to urge people to stop vaping and implement legislation to ban sweet flavours which have drawn millions of children into nicotine addiction.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigs, vapes, mods or vaporizers, as they are commonly called, were created to assist adults who wanted to stop smoking. Many e-cigarette companies are owned by big tobacco companies and rather than promoting them to curb smoking, advertisements have been targeting young people using the same strategies that they used to hook millions of cigarette users over the last 50 years. Lifestyle advertising including young attractive models, reliance on social media influencers, and introduction of hundreds of kid-friendly flavours (e.g. birthday cake and strawberry/watermelon) have attracted children as young as 12. One can find all types of videos on how to stealth vape and companies are promoting products that are designed to be discreet (e.g. vapes that look like a USB stick and vapes that are built into clothing such as a hoodie draw string).

Teachers are seeing exploding vaping rates among junior and senior high-age students, and there seems to be a lack of information and concern on the part of parents. Perhaps this is because parents mistakenly think that vaping is harmless water vapor, not addictive, and/or less dangerous than cigarette smoking. Parents and children don’t seem to realize that the liquid in e-cigarettes may contain many cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals, including formaldehyde, arsenic and lead, and that the refills contain the same amount of nicotine as an entire package of cigarettes. This means that children who vape a refill a day are consuming the equivalent nicotine as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

While school and health professionals’ efforts to communicate the dangers of smoking has resulted in usage rates that are at an all-time low, vaping rates are exponentially growing. A 2016 Alberta survey found that 23 per cent of students in grades 7-12 tried vaping, and national surveys indicate that usage among Canadian teens has grown by 74 per cent over the last year.

Our school division is working with Alberta Health Services to address this growing epidemic and Alberta’s government is currently reviewing tobacco and smoking legislation. Given that there are numerous harmful effects of nicotine including addiction and impairment of brain development, I encourage everyone to take the time to provide feedback so that the government can develop strategies to protect Albertans from the harms of tobacco, vaping and tobacco-like products, and assess the effectiveness of current legislation, which does not address vaping. The survey can be found at https://www.alberta.ca/tobacco-and-smoking-reduction-review.aspx.

Wilco Tymensen is the superintendent of Horizon School Division.

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