National Non-Smoking Week is a time to reflect on the benefits of a smoke-free life and shine a light on important public health issues – like the fact that vaping makes a young person 3.6 times more likely to pick up smoking.
We are honoured to publish this eye-opening take from two emerging scientists-turned-advocates who are taking a stand against misinformation.
As the world grapples with various health concerns, one major issue stands out for us and other youth: vaping. Contrary to the belief of Canadian politicians, youth vaping is not harm reduction, it is not healthy and it is not a coping mechanism. When we had almost eliminated youth smoking, vaping rapidly exposed new generations to nicotine consumption and addiction. Canadian lawmakers must take immediate action to address the soaring rates of youth vaping.
For context, consider recent data from Stats Canada: The estimated number of Canadian youth who vaped daily in 2022 is 750,000. By anyone’s estimation that is a staggering and startling number. This number is an increase from the data compiled in 2021: 670,000 Canadian youth were vaping daily. The update and normalization of this practice pose both immediate and long-term health risks.
However, while Canada wrestles with this rising crisis, nations like New Zealand and the United Kingdom are implementing a Smoke Free Generation, which ensures that those born after a certain date will never legally be able to purchase cigarettes. Unfortunately, these bold new policies do not include vaping. It took policymakers half a century to realize that an outright ban is necessary to protect people from cigarettes. Do we really need to repeat the process before banning youth vaping? Do we have to expose more generations to the harmful impact of nicotine addiction? Or can we learn from our past and the horrific damage that smoking caused to our parents and grandparents? There is no safe age to vape.
These examples aren’t just about the policies; they’re about the messaging. By setting an age restriction on smoking and vaping, we inadvertently communicate that once someone reaches a certain age, it’s “safe” to vape. But when do we ever designate an age limit on other harmful behaviours? We don’t designate a “safe” age for unhealthy eating or reckless driving. Those control tactics are illogical in this or any other context of harmful behaviours. So why is vaping given this exception?
The messages our youth receive are loud and clear from the onslaught of vaping products and their very aggressive marketing strategies targeting young individuals. These campaigns trumpet that vapes are “better and healthier than smoking cigarettes” and market them as a fun way to relieve stress, preying on our youth’s struggles with mental health. This is particularly damaging since nicotine increases depressive symptoms and increases suicidal ideation.
While vaping does not have comparable the body of research proving its harmful physiological effects, as research on smoking, early research does however indicate that vaping poses a significant risk to pulmonary and cardiovascular health. We need to be more intentional and succinct in our messaging: not smoking and not vaping is in fact the healthiest choice.
Vaping has been perceived as an off-ramp to smoking and yet data suggests that it is, in many cases, an on-ramp to taking up the newly acquired habit of vaping, with youth who vape being 3.6 times more likely to start smoking at a later date. Vaping is not, in fact, used as a harm reduction method given that only 6% of youth who vape (15-19) were former smokers.
While physicians were calling for a Smoke Free Generation, we were on Parliament Hill with the Lung Health Foundation and newly formed National Lung Health Alliance (NLHA). Our urgent call to action to our government is to prioritize lung health and implement a ban on vaping and smoking to protect the next generation of Canadian youth.
Canada prides itself on its commitment to the health and well-being of its citizens. Now, more than ever, it is time to reaffirm that commitment. Our youth, our future, depends on it.