November – Vaping continues to pose a threat to Peterborough’s young people

Written by Communications, November 10, 2020

It will come as no surprise that during this pandemic, more of us have been turning to substance use as a coping mechanism. Although many business sectors are struggling, sales of alcohol and cannabis have shown increases. According to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, alcohol sales increased significantly in late March, early on in this pandemic. Online and in-store sales of legal cannabis have also risen. Statistics Canada data shows that compared to April-June 2019, Canadians spent 74 per cent more money on licensed cannabis during the same period this year.

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical. Its most common routes of use are e-cigarettes and commercial tobacco products. Youth are especially susceptible to its negative effects, as it can alter their brain development and can affect memory and concentration. It can also lead to addiction and physical dependence. Before COVID-19 struck, we had been seeing troubling increases in youth vaping rates. And then in 2019, an outbreak of vaping-related lung disease occurred. By year end, the U.S.’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 55 deaths linked to using vaping or e-cigarette products. Canada’s experience was more attenuated, with 14 vaping-related lung disease cases, four of those from Ontario.

We need to be concerned about our children and youth. A recent survey of youth users in six Canadian provinces, published by Heart and Stroke, found that on average, respondents began vaping before their 16 birthday. Almost all users used a flavoured vape juice at initiation (91.9 per cent), with berry, mango, and mint/menthol the most commonly reported. Most users also reported using vape juice containing the highest possible concentration of nicotine (50-60 mg/mL). The amount of nicotine consumed each week by young people who vape regularly is equivalent to the amount of nicotine in three packs of cigarettes. They are using it much in the same way as inhaling solvents — often, and for the buzz.

In the face of this growing threat to the future well-being of our young people, Ontario’s provincial government introduced changes to existing legislation to address the alarming trends in youth nicotine use.

As of July 1, 2020, flavoured vaping products, with the exception of menthol, mint, and tobacco, have been removed from convenience stores and gas bars. These vaping products, along with those that contain more than 20 mg/mL of nicotine, are now only available in specialty vape shops and retail cannabis stores. In addition, the indoor promotion and product displays for these products are restricted so that they are not visible to the outside.

Ontario promised to advocate for a national federal vaping tax to create a greater financial disincentive for youth, and also announced the creation of a Youth Advisory Committee — just as COVID-19 was making its presence known.

Thanks to federal restrictions on labelling that came into effect in July this year, vaping products containing nicotine must identify the concentration of nicotine and display a health warning that nicotine is highly addictive. The maximum allowable concentration of nicotine has been set at 65 mg/mL. Full enforcement of these new requirements is scheduled for January 2021.

What are we seeing in Peterborough? Our enforcement staff are indeed seeing younger students vaping — students as young as 11 and 13 years of age have been found carrying vaping products at school. As for local vendors — the province has mandated an educational approach until the end of the year. Peterborough’s retailers are requiring second visits by our inspectors to ensure that the flavoured and high nicotine products are removed from their shelves.

Inspections will continue, with tobacco enforcement officers focusing on vaping displays and promotions. Our aim is to achieve 100 per cent local compliance by vendors with the new restrictions by the end of this year. We will probably see more specialty vape shops opening up to meet the consistently high demand for these very addictive products. We’ll work with them to ensure their sales are only to people 19 years of age or older. But we’ll need to rely on people like you — the siblings, parents and friends to make sure these substances stay out of the hands of our younger and more vulnerable residents.