Is e-cigarette use amongst Canadian teens concerning?
In a result that has health experts in Canada concerned, a new study finds that roughly ten per cent of students questioned about e-cigarettes said that they use them, with many responding that they did so because they thought e-cigarettes were “cool, fun or new.”
“It’s quite an alarming rate,” said Michael Khoury, lead author of the study. “This is a new public health issue that really needs to be addressed.”
Researchers polled a group of 2,367 grade 9 students from a school in the Niagara region of Ontario and found that while most respondents (1,599) were aware of e-cigarettes, 10.4 per cent of them (238 students) had previously used them. E-cigarette use was found to be more common among male respondents and those who reported smoking cigarettes and/or other tobacco products. The study found a correlation between e-cigarette use and lower self-identified health level, greater stress level and lower estimated household income, results which researchers say may be helpful in creating health programs targeting adolescents at risk.
“While e-cigarettes are frequently used as devices for smoking cessation in adults, we found most students in our survey (including 47.8% of those who recently smoked cigarettes) were motivated by the “cool/fun/something new” features of e-cigarettes,” say the study’s authors, whose work appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
In a related editorial in the CMAJ, Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook puts the blame at the feet of the companies selling e-cigarette products, saying that the rise in the use of e-cigarettes among youth is “not merely an innocent consequence of adolescents’ natural inclination to experiment. It has been driven by aggressive marketing tactics by the industry —the same tactics that have long been used to promote tobacco to youth, including provocative ads and celebrity endorsements.”
Dr. Stanbrook says ten per cent use rate identified in the study is likely an underestimation of actual youth e-cigarette use across Canada, estimated to be somewhere closer to 15 and 20 per cent, depending on the region. In Canada, e-cigarette use among adolescents is now more common than cigarette use.
A study conducted in 2015 in Hawaii arrived at the similar conclusion that adolescents’ motivation for trying and/or using e-cigarettes were curiosity and exploration, two factors that are not high on the list of motivations for adults.
E-cigarettes come in the form of battery-operated devices which heat and vaporize a liquid which is then inhaled, with the liquid commonly containing propylene or vegetable glycol as a base and mixed with other flavours and ingredients including nicotine. Despite their ready availability, e-cigarette products have not been approved for sale in Canada, and health officials are concerned about the current lack of regulation over the product.
“No formal safety requirements exist regarding e-cigarette product development, ingredient disclosure, information on nicotine levels and risk of use,” says the Heart and Stroke Foundation in a statement. “Taking into account the potential threat of renormalization, gateway to addiction and health risks, as well as the need for more information regarding the potential cessation benefits of e-cigarettes, it is critical that governments move quickly to regulate all e-cigarettes and commission further research.”