WATCH — These vaping statistics might surprise you

Matthew Lupu
Story by Matthew Lupu • CBC Kids News • Published 2019-12-03 11:27

Government fails and tips on how to quit vaping

Is vaping addictive?

When CBC Kids News asked a group of students at Garden City Collegiate in Winnipeg to answer that question, they couldn’t agree.

“Definitely not. I don’t think so,” said one.

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty addictive,” said another.

Well, Health Canada is clear. Vaping can lead to nicotine addiction.

But a lack of knowledge — or the fact that vaping is illegal if you’re under 18 or 19, depending on where you live — hasn’t stopped kids from trying it.

In fact, there are more teen vapers in Canada than ever before, according to the latest COMPASS survey.

Compact vape pens displayed in somebody's hand.

Five years ago, barely any Canadian teens were vaping. Now almost one-third of all teens in Alberta and Quebec say they tried vaping in the past month. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Have you vaped in the last month?

New research shows that nearly one-third of all high school students in Alberta and Quebec had tried vaping in the past month.

That’s a drastic change from five years ago, when barely any high schoolers were vaping in Canada, said Scott Leatherdale, who led a survey about health behaviours in young people called COMPASS.

The annual survey, conducted by the University of Waterloo, was filled out by more than 75,000 high school students in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

It shows that vaping rates in Alberta and Quebec are even higher than the U.S. average, where one in four Grade 12 students said they had vaped in the past month, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.

No smoking No vaping sign on outside of a school building.

School staff are trying to figure out how to control when and where student vape. One high school in Ottawa removed the doors from the washrooms in January to get students to stop vaping inside. (CBC)

Mysterious illnesses

Not only is vaping addictive, it’s also appears to be making people really sick.

As of Nov. 20, officials were investigating 11 cases of a mysterious and deadly lung illness related to vaping in Canada.

In Ontario, a 17-year-old had to be put on life-support and narrowly missed needing a double lung transplant.

No deaths have been reported from the disease in Canada yet, but the number of deaths connected to vaping in the U.S. had risen to 47 as of Nov. 20.

Officials aren’t exactly sure what’s making people so sick, but Health Canada said many of the patients reported vaping THC (which is found in cannabis) or nicotine, or both.

Even vapes that don’t have nicotine or THC in them can contain harmful chemicals, according to Health Canada.

Amber Noland lies in hospital bed as doctor works on her exposed back.

Doctors had to insert a chest tube into Amber Noland after the 18-year-old Calgary resident’s lung collapsed. Doctors told her they believed it was related to her vaping and smoking. (Tara Noland)

Did Canadian health officials fail the public?

Most public health officials take a “better safe than sorry” approach when it comes to their work.

This means they treat every new product on the market — like vapes — with caution, even if there’s no proof that they’ll do more harm than good.

When it came to vaping, that standard “got thrown out the window,” said Dr. Andrew Pipe, a doctor in Ottawa who helps patients quit smoking.

In 2017, the Canadian government crafted a law to make vapes as accessible as possible (while still protecting kids from getting their hands on an addictive product).

Why? Because officials were hopeful that vapes could help smokers quit, even though they didn’t have the evidence to prove it.

Officials were so focussed on helping smokers, said Dr. Charlotta Pisinger, a professor of tobacco prevention at the University of Copenhagen, that we forgot “to take care of the rest of the population.”

Hand holding cigarette package with image of sick woman on it with caption This is what dying of lung cancer looks like.

Cigarettes come in packages with graphic warning labels. That’s not the case for vapes in Canada. Instead some of the flavoured vape packages almost look like candy. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Vapes don’t help smokers quit

The irony is, vaping hasn’t worked as a way for smokers to stop using cigarettes.

Pipe said a number of studies have shown that vaping fails to help smokers quit 85 to 95 per cent of the time.

In fact, many smokers don’t switch to vapes entirely, Pisinger said. They end up doing both, instead.

And now many people who never smoked are starting to vape, too.

Stacks of flavoured pods in mango, grape and mint flavours.

In the U.S., Juul has stopped selling all mint, dessert and fruit flavours. U.S. President Donald Trump was moving towards fully banning flavoured vapes, but he backed out. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Vaping restrictions

Health Canada did put some age restrictions and advertising rules in place to try to protect teens from getting addicted to vapes.

But vaping devices still have fewer restrictions than tobacco and cannabis.

Unlike cigarettes, there are no graphic warning labels on packages and the sale of fruit flavours is allowed.

And vaping devices can be sold anywhere instead of only in specialty stores like cannabis.

Juul starter kit with all the pieces on display.

The Canadian government approved the sale of vape kits like this one in 2018, with the goal of helping smokers quit. That hasn’t happened. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

It can be difficult to find resources on how to quit vaping in Canada.

Most are aimed at smokers, and vaping is often still being framed as part of the solution when it comes to quitting smoking.

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health has mapped out a plan for vapers who want to quit:

How to quit vaping  1/ Know why you’re quitting. Make a list of all the reasons why you want to stop. 2/ If you use cigarettes, you should plan to quit smoking and vaping at the same time. 3/ Set your quit date. Give yourself time to get ready but don’t put it off for too long. 4/ Take it one day at a time and prepare for the challenges. 5/ Learn your triggers and try to avoid them. 6/ Think about how you’ll fight the cravings and deal with withdrawal. 7/ Avoid places and situations where other people are vaping. 8/ Imagine your vape-free self. Focus on the positive. 9/ Ask for help from family, friends and your doctor. 10/ Chat with or call a quitting counsellor in your area. CREDIT: teen.smokefree.gov

Visit Health Canada’s website to find a quitting counsellor near you.

In the meantime, test your knowledge with CBC Kids News contributor Matthew Lupu's vaping quiz:


With files from Kelly Crowe, Christine Birak/CBC News, The Associated Press

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About the Contributor

Matthew Lupu
Matthew Lupu
CBC Kids News Contributor
Matthew Lupu enjoys producing and editing videos. He also loves acting and brings characters to life with his sense of humour, quick wit and athleticism. When Matthew is not on screen, you can also find him playing goalie for his high school hockey team and weight training.

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