Youth culture moves fast. “What’s in”, clothing, language, popular music and other trends change quickly and it’s hard to keep up with everything that is occurring. If you haven’t been paying attention, you might have missed that youth vaping in Canada has increased 75% in the past year (2017/2018). Here in Chatham-Kent, almost 32% of high school students have reportedly vaped in the last month with the largest jump in use happening as students move from grade 8 to grade 9.
One of the most common questions asked about this explosion of use is “Why is this even happening?” The answer to this question is complicated. Generally speaking, this has been a perfect storm of an older product getting reinvented with a “sleek aesthetic makeover” in addition to new formulations to ensure nicotine is better absorbed by the body. Compound this with nicotine based devices officially being allowed to be sold in Canada and the tobacco industry investing into the most popular selling brands. In 2019 it would have been impossible to not notice the advertising and promotion of vaping products every time you walked by a store or gas station. Youth in our communities certainly noticed.
When your peers are all “doing something” it’s pretty hard to not participate when you’re younger. The key issue in this case is that many of the vaping liquids and devices being used have large amounts of addictive nicotine alongside a variety of youth tempting flavours. Normal youth experimentation can turn into daily dependence quite quickly as youth struggle to recognize the addictive risks these devices hold. Even with youth not legally being permitted to buy vaping products till the age of 19 there’s a wide assortment of sources (internet, parents, peers, older family members) available to them.
Recently, with several high profile cases of vaping related lung injury making the news there has been increased concern for parents and young people. “Can vaping hurt me?” “Should I not be doing this?” “You mean this just isn’t harmless water vapour?” The problem answering these questions is that the scientific community doesn’t know the long term impact of vaping and what products are contributing to the more urgent lung injuries.
In addition to not knowing the long term health impacts of vaping, youth experimentation really lacks a dramatic health “cause and effect” seen with other substances. The first time a young person experiences a hangover from too much alcohol consumption can give them pause the next time they’re in that situation. In our experience, the “pause” for vaping only occurs when youth try to stop vaping and they begin to recognize that they can’t.
How can youth determine they may have an issue with vaping? Here’s a general list of things to look for:
-Irritability and mood swings
-Poor school performance and increased absences
-Sharing devices with others? Increased chance to catch colds and/or viruses
-Getting “winded” more easily where your lungs feel “heavy” while participating in sports or even daily activities like climbing stairs
-Needing to vape nicotine within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning
-Preoccupied thoughts of vaping (when, where, buying etc.)
-Increased spending on vaping (often with money they might not have)
What’s even more challenging in helping youth stop vaping is that it requires a lot of individual attention and time… but, it is possible!