Weekly Column: Our Teenagers Are Vaping Away At The Cost Of Their Health

By | September 17, 2018

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on September 17, 2018 and also published at www.danielaginta.com

On August 30, 2018, the San Francisco-based company Juul Labs Inc. announced its arrival to Canada. Their products will be available for sale starting this month. The Juul memory stick-like vaporizers contain nicotine in variable amounts, as high as 59 micrograms per milliliter of liquid. The amount of nicotine contained in a pod could be as high to two packs of cigarettes, according to one source. The nicotine salts deliver a head rush like no other, users say. Plus, it’s slick and easy to conceal.

Be it so, many will say, the press release clearly states that the company’s products are designed for adult smokers, the whole 5 million of them in Canada, to help stave off their dependence on combustible cigarettes. That’s a noble goal (and good business too,) if only vaping was not already so favoured already by the teenage population.

Wait, that’s old news. I already wrote about this in a previous column. Our young ones have been making lots of billows of fragrant vapours since, and it’s not just the random clouds but the tricks that get them excited, aside from the attractive flavours glycerine and propylene glycol come entwined with. One YouTube channel followed by almost half a million subscribers features vaping tricks videos that have been viewed more than 6 million times. I’m guessing is not the adults who are employing vaping to kick the smoking habit.

Some kids choose to vape in class too. For advanced concealing purposes, you hold the vapours in. Yes, let’s collectively cringe, because that concoction of inhaled and absorbed chemicals poses health risks we are becoming more aware with each study. While government sources have declared propylene glycol and glycerine safe (they are used in sweeteners and cosmetics,) there is no saying what inhaling them will do. The latest research points out to an increased risk of lung inflammation, combined with the damage to the protective cells that ensure our respiratory system stays healthy. The long-term projection is an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and if the effects would end here it would be worrying enough.

There’s also nicotine. The concentration in vaping liquids ranges from as low as 3mg per fill to 45mg. Nicotine is highly addictive, and though some scientists say it is less dangerous when compared to the rest of the chemicals one inhales while smoking, there is enough research and scientific reviews pointing to its most obvious effects on the body. Nicotine has been shown to have carcinogenic potential, and it also affects the heart, kidneys, reproductive system and lungs. It has been shown to affect memory and concentration, both highly needed by children (and all of us,) and both already under attack due to other factors.

From a business perspective, the model works: vaping gets teens hooked on nicotine, so they will keep on vaping or they’ll try cigarettes (some use both already, I was told.) Some of today’s vaping teens will become adult smokers who, at some point, concerned for their health and the affects of smoking, will go back to vaping. That’s how life-long customers are born, and not to a product that enhances their quality of life. On the contrary.

But it’s not the business part that concerns me. It’s the access our teenagers have to these nicotine dispensers. As the FDA is cracking down on vape manufacturers in order to stop their sales of vaping products to minors, here’s to hoping that Health Canada will do then same.

As it stands right now, the recently reviewed Tobacco and Vaping Products Act states that ‘no person shall send or deliver a tobacco product or a vaping product to a young person,’ but who are we kidding? Young people like vaping, and if they cannot buy their products directly, they do so on the black market (some paying double if need be,) through social media, or via older people who agree to legally buy it for them at a cost. According to government statistics, 50 percent of students said it will be ‘fairly easy’ or ‘very easy’ to procure vaping products.

Will talking to our occasionally rebellious teens do anything? I believe so. I am not talking about lecturing, nagging or policing them around, but telling them the facts. There are many ways to have fun, and yes, they will try many of the forbidden ones. They’ll walk on the wild side, but if the regulations are in place and the information is everywhere for them to see – home, school, society – there is a chance some will start paying attention. More so when they notice the effects on their body, which many have already.

Health Canada is presently looking for social media influencers who can convey to teenagers the message about the vaping risks. In addition to that, we need strict regulations that would see companies review the way their products are produced and marketed. Candy flavours will always appeal to kids and teenagers; to adults too, many argue, but here’s the thing. If you are determined to kick smoking and are trying vaping, you’re less focused on the flavour it comes in, if any, and more on the fact that it helps you deal with your addiction.

Bottom line: in the US, vaping has increased from 5 million users in 2011 to 40 million in 2018. In Canada, while solid numbers still elude us, we know that vaping is highest among youth (15 to 19 years old) and young adults (20 to 24 years old.) Look around: teens younger than 15, and pre-teens too, are happily puffing away, whether stats include them or not. Including them sooner than later will hopefully drive home the point: Our kids are getting hooked on smoking, and on nicotine too.

I was told that since teenagers, some as young as 13 or 14, already smoke, vaping is a better alternative. It may be, but it may just be the in-between, the addiction that is being kept alive. With health risks. In a world already affected by pollution and with increasing risks of chronic respiratory diseases, we cannot look the other way. After all, this is history repeating itself, though the object of contention is different. Only the subjects are the same, albeit much younger. Which makes it that much more imperative that we talk about it.

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