Action needed to discourage youth vaping

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E-cigarettes have grown in popularity, in part because they’re considered a safer alternative to traditional tobacco — all the nicotine without many of the health hazards from inhaling cigarette smoke.

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Opinion

E-cigarettes have grown in popularity, in part because they’re considered a safer alternative to traditional tobacco — all the nicotine without many of the health hazards from inhaling cigarette smoke.

The trendy vaporizers burn a liquid, often called vape juice, which is usually infused with nicotine to create an aerosol that users inhale to get a nicotine rush or, in some cases, ease nicotine cravings.

Vaporizers have become popular among those who are trying to quit smoking tobacco because vape juice comes in a variety of nicotine levels, including, if desired, none at all. Some smokers have become vapers because it’s cheaper, too. Taxes on vape juice pale in comparison to the duties imposed on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco over the years, which have created bottom-line reasons to quit.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Vaping among high school students is a growing concern.

A package of 20 cigarettes in Manitoba averages close to $15; the price of a best-selling vape juice and a vaporizer in Manitoba can be around $25, but promises up to 5,000 puffs per bottle.

E-cigarettes are also considered more convenient. The vaporizer’s built-in igniter means there’s no need to borrow a match from a fellow smoker or buy a lighter after losing one during a night on the town.

Vaping also doesn’t create the tar and carbon monoxide that lighting up a cigarette does. Aerosols created from vaping juices do, however, contain other harmful substances that can damage the respiratory system, such as diacetyl, which is used to create flavours of vape juice.

Nicotine from e-cigarettes is just as addictive, and can harm adolescents’ brain development just as effectively as regular cigarettes, and that’s why vaping has become a growing problem in schools in Manitoba, across Canada and beyond.

Many vape-juice brands are owned by tobacco companies — they’ve transitioned to the new nicotine-delivery method just like smokers have — and they’ve aimed products at youth with similar marketing strategies to those used to sell cigarettes to past generations of new smokers.

While lobbyists and governments have driven flavoured tobacco from store shelves, vaping juice comes in all kinds of tastes and aromas — from sweet and fruity for newbies to tobacco for traditionalists. That variety is one of the product’s main selling points.

In the past, scrambling to hide cigarettes from the prying eyes of parents and teachers was part of becoming a smoker. Not so for today’s young vapers — not only do vaporizers come in attractive colours; they also are shaped for easy concealment in purses and backpacks, and because they’re “smokeless,” some Winnipeg students say it’s easy to sneak a quick vape during classes without getting caught.

Because of all this, the arrival of vaping has blunted much of the progress society has made in keeping nicotine away from schoolchildren.

A 2018-19 study by the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey revealed 20 per cent of Grade 7-12 students admitted to vaping with or without nicotine in the past 30 days, with almost 40 per cent of those saying they vape on a daily or almost-daily basis.

While it may be more difficult these days to discourage youngsters from seeking a nicotine fix, there are ways to make vaping less attractive to users of all ages.

One is to rid the marketplace of flavoured vape juice, which will remove some of the products’ allure, especially to young people. Another is to level the field for all nicotine-based products, ensuring taxes on e-cigarettes are similar to those on cigarettes.

That might help vapers, especially young users, make the bottom-line decision to break away from a habit whose dangers they don’t fully comprehend.

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