British Columbia

B.C.'s top doc says helping teens cope with anxiety could reduce reliance on vaping

In the wake of multiple vaping-related deaths in the United States, B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is asking parents to talk to their teens about why they vape.

Dr. Bonnie Henry wants parents to have non-judgmental conversations with kids about stress, addiction

In the United States, more than 500 people have been diagnosed with vaping-related breathing illnesses and eight people have died so far. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

The province's top public health officer says many young people are using vapes and e-cigarettes to help reduce anxiety and parents need to start talking to their teens about other tools to help them cope with stress.

In the wake of eight vaping-related deaths in the United States — and the first reported case of illness linked to the practice in Canada — Dr. Bonnie Henry says it's only a matter of time before there is a similar spike in illnesses in B.C.

While she is urging the federal government to make it harder for minors to get their hands on the devices in the first place, she also wants parents to talk to their kids about why they feel the need to vape.

Henry said Thursday that a worrying number of B.C. teenagers use vape products, some of which have cartridges containing roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. She said she knows from personal experience how challenging it is for parents to have conversations with their teenagers about vaping but the health risks necessitate it.

"You really don't know what you are inhaling into your lungs," Henry warned, adding that vapes and e-cigarettes were originally intended as smoking cessation tools to help adult smokers quit and the nicotine they contain can negatively affect teenagers' developing brains.

A vape shop worker organizes electronic smoking products in a local store in Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S., September 12, 2019. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Henry told Stephen Quinn, host of The Early Edition, that the young people she has talked to say they vape because it feels nice and relaxing.

"You have to have honest conversations with young people about why they are using these," said Henry, who said the same advice applies to teachers, coaches and health officials.

And nicotine isn't the only risky chemical teens are exposed to when they vape.

Henry said because vapes heat up the chemicals inhaled, the heat can cause chemical reactions that lead to byproducts like formaldehyde, which causes lung irritation.

She said the devices are more popular with teens than cigarettes because they are discrete and can be filled with flavoured cartridges. 

Henry would like the federal government to ban flavoured cartridges and restrict the use of vaping devices to those who are using them to quit smoking cigarettes.

To hear the complete interview with Dr. Bonnie Henry on The Early Edition, click on the audio link below:

Dr. Bonne Henry speaks with Stephen Quinn about Ontario's investigation. 7:50

With files from The Early Edition and The Associated Press

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