Experts Like BC’s Youth Vaping Rules, but Want Focus on Why They Vape Too

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New regulations to combat vaping in B.C., particularly among youth, are a welcome intervention amid surging youth vaping rates, but an  expert says prevention will take more than educating young people about  its risks.

The new regulations to  implement last fall’s Anti-Vaping Action Plan were released last week  after the pandemic bumped back their intended March roll-out.

Hailed by the province as the most  comprehensive in Canada, the regulations include limiting the content of  vaping pods to 20 mg/mL and relegating the sale of flavoured pods to  adult-only 19+ stores.

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All-ages stores, such as convenience or  grocery stores, must only sell unflavoured, tobacco-based vape products,  and all vape products must have plain packaging with visible health  warnings, much like cigarettes.

The provincial sales tax  rate on vaping products also rose from 7 to 20 per cent starting on Jan.  1 and vape products cannot be advertised in public spaces where youth  are likely to spend time.

“Given the central  importance right now of respiratory diseases and illnesses such as  COVID-19 in our lives, I think it’s an important time to make this  move,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix last week.

Vaping among youth in Canada increased by 74 per cent between 2017 and 2018, from 8.4 to 14.6 per cent of 16-  to 19-year-olds, according to a study by Dr. David Hammond of the  University of Waterloo.

And in the 2018 BC Adolescent Health Survey,  21 per cent of B.C. students in Grades 7 to 12 said they had used a  nicotine-based vaping product, while 19 per cent had used a vaping  product without nicotine.

Dr. Laura Struik, a University of British  Columbia Okanagan expert in youth vaping and smoking, said “from a  health policy perspective, this is a great and encouraging step  forward.”

Preventing youth from vaping is important  because their brains are still developing into their mid-twenties, and  nicotine predisposes a developing brain to long-term nicotine addiction, said Struik.

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Hammond’s study also found that youth who vape are also three to four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes.

But a number of the new regulations could  go further or even have adverse health effects that public health  officials will have to monitor as the regulations take effect.

Struik applauds the limit on nicotine  content but says that we may see people used to higher nicotine  concentrations increasing the temperature of their vaping devices or  prolonging inhalation to make up for the difference.

Currently, the most concentrated vape pod available is 66 mg/mL, triple what is allowed by the new limit.

“There are a lot of health risks to doing  both of those things, and they can cause significant damage to the  lungs,” said Struik, an assistant professor of nursing at UBCO. “So  that’s just something that we’ll need to keep an eye on when these  changes happen.”

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Prohibiting ads for vape products in public  spaces is important, but she says a more difficult but impactful step  would be to prevent advertising online where youth and young adults  spend much of their time.

Also key to combating youth vaping is  involving youth themselves in education initiatives and in evaluating  new policies, particularly because they face different and increasing  stressors than previous generations did at their age.

The province’s action plan  includes a provincial youth advisory group to develop and advise on  future policy, a step Struik said is essential to understanding the  “multidimensional and varied” reasons that youth vape.

Social factors like peer pressure,  increasing stress from school and work, lack of sleep and anxiety around  climate change, structural racism and other issues at the forefront may  drive youth to cope using vape products.

“These factors can play a larger and  sometimes overriding role in their decision to [vape], so if our  education campaigns are only addressing the risk factors, and yet the  social factor is playing a larger role, then we’re not really doing our  job,” said Struik.

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Leveraging ways that youth avoid vaping  could help drive positive change, but Struik says there has to be an  increase in resources to accompany the regulations if they are to be  truly effective at curbing vaping addictions.

“It’s one thing to implement these  regulations, but we also have to be ready to catch people on the other  side and have programs and interventions in place to help hold them  through this addiction,” she said. “And unfortunately, we are a little  bit behind in that regard.”

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