The chair of the Okanagan-Similkameen school board is joining the chorus of voices advocating for immediate action to fight the dramatic increase in vaping among young people.
School District 53 chair Rob Zandee penned a letter to B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Oct. 15 urging him to take “immediate action” to eliminate youth vaping in B.C. and provide “awareness, prevention and support programs to educate our youth.”
In the letter, Zandee said the number of children getting drawn into vaping is steadily increasing due to the efforts of vape companies that deliberately target youth with “innocuous vape flavours and savvy hi-tech marketing.”
When reached for comment on Sunday, Zandee said there’s been a reduction in the number of youth vaping on school property due to the efforts of staff, but it can’t control off-campus activity.
“Our secondary schools have reported that it is the number one health concern,” Zandee said.
“The schools have devoted a great deal of time meeting with students and monitoring school grounds and reaching out to parents,” he added.
Zandee said more resources should be put into education and awareness.
“Firing vaporized chemicals into your lungs is not a good thing,” he said.
That sentiment is echoed by Stephanie Higginson, the president of BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA).
“When you’re dealing with flavoured vaping products that taste like gummy bears or whatever the candy flavour, there is a lot of misunderstanding among youth that these things actually even contain nicotine,” Higginson said on Sunday.
“It’s resulting in youth getting addicted to nicotine and not even realizing they are addicted to it. And when they do, and they want to stop, they have an addiction to it.”
Higginson said vaping is more discrete than smoking cigarettes, and therefore more difficult to monitor.
“It doesn’t leave the same smell, it doesn’t have the same lasting impact, so students have the ability to do it without being as noticeable,” she said.
The BCSTA, which represents all 60 education boards and over 400 school trustees, recently passed two motions calling on the provincial and federal governments to take action on youth vaping.
The most recent motion supports tougher regulations on the sale of e-cigarettes and vapour products to minors, including a ban on the sale of products which are marketed specifically to young people.
New research suggests vaping among young Canadians skyrocketed 74 per cent in just one year.
The study, spearheaded by University of Waterloo professor David Hammond, found the number of Canadians aged 16 to 19 who reported vaping in the previous month jumped from 8.4 per cent in 2017 to 14.6 per cent in 2018.
Justin Chrystal, the owner of Corner Vapes in Penticton, B.C., said the age limit to purchase vaping products is 19, but some youth are buying it at convenience stores and gas stations where attendants are more lenient. He said others are purchasing online where they can order e-juice with higher nicotine concentrations to “get a head rush.”
He said some young people are abusing the products and giving vape shops a “horrible name.”
Last week Health Canada reported a second case of severe pulmonary disease related to vaping in Quebec.
These two cases are the only ones confirmed so far in Canada.
However, three other cases are considered probable: two in New Brunswick and one in British Columbia.
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix has previously told Global News the solution lies in more education and work is underway to establish youth-led education efforts across the province.
Dix said he would also like to see the federal government put in restrictions on nicotine levels for vaping products and flavouring.
“We know that the current regulatory scheme was set up by the provincial government does not work very well,” he said.
Under the current system there are around 6,500 B.C. vendors that can sell tobacco products, compared to around 90,000 points of sale for vaping products.
B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone introduced a private member’s bill in April to ban flavoured vapour products, introduce tighter retail controls and roll out tougher penalties for non-compliance.
While Higginson acknowledges work is underway, she said action is not being taken quick enough.
“We need to start addressing this in a more direct and quicker way,” she said.
—With files from the Canadian Press, Global News’ Sean Boynton and Richard Zussman