Health officials are speaking out about the alarming number of teens in the Simcoe Muskoka area who have started vaping.
According to the Ontario Student Drug and Health Survey, the number of students in grades 7 to 12 who reported using vaping products in the past year more than doubled from 11 per cent in 2017 to 23 per cent in 2019.
But for the Simcoe Muskoka area, that number is significantly higher, with about one-third of students in this age group reporting vaping in the past year, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reports.
“The amount of nicotine in a vape product, one pod can be as much as the pack of cigarettes, and the student may use more than one pod in a day. Because with vaping, you can just suck on it all the time, you’re continuously grazing on nicotine, and that becomes a huge problem for them,” says Cindy Baker-Barill, nurse and program manager of the smoke-free program with the health unit.
“They’re so addicted that they can’t get through a school day without their nicotine.”
While cigarettes carry with them certain stigma and awareness of the health effects, Baker-Barill says vape products are not viewed in the same way.
“We’ve done a really good job of making it not a social norm. Young people don’t want to smoke, but vaping has come in the market and because we’ve let it be legalized, they think it’s healthy and OK,” Baker-Barill says.
She notes that it can be hard when vape products are able to have creative packaging and different flavours, making them more appealing than their cigarette counterparts.
“They’re being marketed to make them believe that the products are safe and helpful and even a normal part of their lives. So we just need to be able to change that so that they realize that, no, they’re like smoking cigarettes,” Baker-Barill says.
One of the issues health officials are facing is that information on vaping-related illnesses is relatively new.
The first probable case of vaping-related illness in Canada was only reported in 2019, where a London, Ont.-area teenager was hospitalized for 47 days with a lung disease.
“We’re just starting to recognize the long-term health impacts of some of the lung issues that happened early on, with the solidification of whatever vapour in the lungs and causing lung damage. Certainly, I’m hearing more reports related to lung issues, but the actual statistics aren’t readily available because of COVID,” Baker-Barill says.
She hopes that by sharing this information more parents in the area will be aware of the harmful effects of vaping and that more parents talk to their kids, noting that many may not know their teen is vaping.
She points to the health unit’s website as the best place to find details about the effects of vaping and how to speak to your kids.
Vaping products have grown in popularity since the mid-2000s when they were initially marketed as a way to stop smoking.
Baker-Barill says while they are likely a healthy option for people quitting cigarettes, they are not a healthy option for someone who has never smoked.
“If you don’t smoke, starting to vape makes no sense. You are then addicting yourself to nicotine and you are putting chemicals in your lungs that we are seeing more and more negative health effects and at this point, we don’t know some of the health effects that will occur.”
— with files from Global News’ Jacquelyn LeBel and Andrew Graham