What are e-cigarettes and how can you discourage children and youth from using them?
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are small, battery operated devices that may be designed to look like cigarettes or be decorated with other “cool” designs. Instead of burning tobacco, e-cigarettes vaporize something called an "e-liquid," which can contain nicotine.
Different brands and models of e-cigarettes have different amounts of nicotine. When the vapour is inhaled, which is often called "vaping," nicotine can enter the lungs as a vaporized solution. Many cartridges also contain candy and fruit flavour, which also appeal to children and youth.
E-cigarettes have three components:
- An inhaler cartridge that holds the e-liquid (with or without nicotine, which is the addictive and toxic ingredient found in traditional cigarettes).
- The vaporizer, which heats and turns the liquid into a vapour that is meant to be inhaled like smoke.
- A battery of varying voltage that powers the e-cigarette.
Should parents be concerned about e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes may offer some potential for harm reduction, when used as a smoking cessation aid for people trying to quit using traditional cigarettes and tobacco. However, e-cigarettes also model smoking behaviour to non-smoking youth and are easily accessible to them. They have the potential to renormalize smoking and may attract or hook non-smokers.
The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit's video E-Cigarettes:To Vape or Not to Vape offers more information about this issue in a way that is accessible to youth.
Despite Health Canada’s 2009 ban of the sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, they are still widely available. E-cigarettes are now being used and promoted by celebrities and on television and in movies.
How many youth are using e-cigarettes?
- In 2015, 26 per cent of Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 reported having ever tried e-cigarettes. This compares to 20 per cent in 2013.
- Six per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, an increase of three per cent from 2013.
- Among people who have never smoked cigarettes, 41 per cent of those who reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days were youth aged 15 to 19.
- The 2016 US Surgeon General’s report indicates a three-fold increase in e-cigarette use since 2011 among middle and high school students who had never tried regular cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes have not been evaluated for safety and quality by Health Canada.
- Teens become addicted to nicotine at lower levels and fewer exposures than adults.
- Nicotine disrupts development of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, leading to increased risk of depression, poor memory, decreased impulse control and attention.
- Some e-cigarettes are designed for use with marijuana, hashish concentrates and oils.
What are the health and safety risks for youth?
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society:
- Exposure to e-cigarette vapours and nicotine may have harmful effects on developing children's brains and can cause nicotine dependence and addiction.
- Flavourings and the chemical propylene glycol in the e-liquid can irritate children's lungs when heated as they release toxins and can worsen conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
- The e-liquid can be poisonous to young children if ingested, and can be toxic if spilled on the skin leading to nausea or vomiting, difficulty breathing and even seizures.
- Use of e-cigarettes can be a gateway for youth to take up cigarette smoking.
- Batteries in the e-cigarettes have been known to explode.
What is being done to protect children and youth?
- Provincial tobacco legislation, such as the B.C. Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act and Tobacco Control Regulation, has been updated to include e-cigarettes. Vapour products cannot be sold to minors, and product store displays are now regulated the same way as tobacco.
- Use of vapour products is banned in all public spaces where the B.C. government has also banned tobacco smoking. Some municipalities have included vapour products in their smoke-free bylaws.
- Canadian and international public health organizations recommend legislation to restrict marketing to youth as well as uphold or enhance existing smoking regulations.
- E-cigarette use is not allowed on any school property in B.C.
- E-cigarettes containing nicotine or making health claims are banned for sale in Canada.