In recent years, Canada seems to have caught up to the US in its concerns about teen vaping. But are such fears justified? We asked an expert.
A recent study published the journal Children aimed to determine how much of an issue youth vaping truly is. The research team explored factors and patterns associated with vaping by analysing data from the 2019 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CSTADS) of 38,229 students. They found that nicotine and nicotine-free vaping rates are high, and many students reported engaging in both.
Similarly, vaping data collected from over 75,000 students in Grades 9 to 12 in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, has indicated a significant increase in teen vaping amongst high school students. The survey indicated that nearly one-third of high school students in Alberta and Quebec, and one in four in Ontario said they vaped in the past month. The province of British Columbia also saw increases, but these were not as high as in the other provinces.
Many local entities have voiced their concerns about increased vaping rates. Yet studies and tobacco harm reduction experts keep highlighting that as long as the increase in vaping is leading to a decrease in smoking, health authorities should not be overly concerned. Namely because teenagers will always be drawn to experimentation and the ones with the personality type to do so would be experimenting with riskier nicotine products, such as cigarettes, in the absence of vapes.
Viewed in this manner, the products would be considered beneficial to public health. Moreover, the Canadian Tobacco and Vaping Survey 2020, found that youth vaping has already declined since 2019, with youth daily vaping being at 4.7%.
However, the latest results from Health Canada’s Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, raised alarm once again. The study surveyed 61,096 teenagers in grades 7 to 12 across nine Canadian provinces between September 2021 and June 2022, and reported that 29% of students had ever tried an e-cigarette. Once again this percentage was overall lower from the 34% in 2018-19, but higher in older age groups, at 41% in grade 10 to 12 students.
One must point out that while at 29%, the rate seems relatively high, this figure includes anyone who had ever tried vapes, not just regular vapers. In fact, the rate for those who vaped daily was 8%. Therefore are regulators being overly concerned? Is the situation dire or are the benefits (mainly the drop in smoking rates) still outweighing any repercussions (ie. an increase in vaping rates)?
A public health expert explains
In order to get answers and more importantly, the facts right, Vaping Post posed these questions to renowned Canadian lawyer and public health advocate, David Sweanor, who has been tirelessly striving to reduce global cigarette smoking since 1983. And just like we suspected based on the data staring us in the face, Sweanor spoke of the unfortunate bias, misinformation and out-of-context data that local anti-vaping entities are pushing, in contributing to a false narrative about vaping.
The data as presented by the anti-vaping people is typically skewed and misleading. For instance, contrasting a measure of daily smoking with one of past 30-day use of vaping. Which is like contrasting daily beer drinking to past 30-day use of vegetablesDavid Sweanor, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
The expert started off by explaining where the local anti-vaping agenda is coming from. “The abstinence-only agenda on nicotine in Canada (it is much more than just anti-vaping) is led by a small cohort of people who refuse to discuss or debate the issue. They have willing partners in some media outlets that clearly like sensational stories and avoid getting differing views from more objective people.”
Sweanor explained the sad state of affairs where Health Canada is having to take into account these skewed perspectives, despite them clashing with its increasingly progressive approach. “Health Canada is now taking an increasingly rational public health oriented stance on substance use, including vaping, but has to respond to the anti-vaping campaigners. This slows progress in tackling cigarette smoking.”
Putting things into perspective
Ultimately, the misinformation about vaping is costing lives, he added. “The tragedy in all this is that Canada still has an estimated 4,000 cigarette caused deaths monthly, and misinformation is perpetuating this carnage. Government surveys show that very few Canadians understand relative risks and are thus not empowered to make better personal health decisions. The constant barrage of anti-vaping hysteria is undoubtedly deserving of a portion of the blame for this.
The data as presented by the anti-vaping people is typically skewed and misleading. For instance, contrasting a measure of daily smoking with one of past 30-day use of vaping. Which is like contrasting daily beer drinking to past 30-day use of vegetables. It’s a great way to shape an agenda via misinformation but a lousy way to formulate intelligent policies.
The campaigns against vaping also misrepresent vaping as something led by Big Tobacco and attribute to them banned ‘kid-friendly’ product flavours that none of them actually produce. While ignoring the way their attacks on safer alternatives to lethal cigarettes are protecting and ultimately enriching cigarette companies.
These campaigns have focused on presenting vaping as something ‘kids’ do. This is almost certain to be reducing the number of middle aged and older people who smoke cigarettes, and whose lives are at immediate risk from continued cigarette use, from seeing these products as lifesavers for themselves.
The attacks also fail to note the enormous progress in reducing cigarette use among young people in Canada. When I entered the fray to control cigarettes over 40 years ago daily smoking among 15–19-year-old Canadians was a shocking 42%. Sensible policies greatly reduced this rate and vaping is associated with a far steeper recent rate of decline to the point that teen cigarette smoking has virtually disappeared. That is an enormous public health victory that should be celebrated, and its lessons applied to other age groups and other issues. Instead, those pursuing a ‘war on drugs’ approach to nicotine are stalling progress and costing lives.”
The tobacco harm reduction expert concluded that sadly, those pushing the anti-vape agenda tend to be individuals and entities fixated on their own personal ideological theories, which they are not willing to question and fact check. “Yet it has ever been thus. Many of the people and organisations pursuing the attacks on vaping have been deeply frustrating obstacles to progress in reducing smoking throughout my career. They have personal ideological agendas that do not align with effective public health policy. Their refusal to debate the issues is telling.”