British Columbia

'It's very easy to hide': North Vancouver student pushes for support to help teens quit vaping

Vaping was originally touted to smokers as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but for some teens it's becoming a new addiction.

Isobel Casey’s concerns being shared at a North Shore vaping education event

Vaping nicotine has exploded in popularity among Canadian teens in recent years. (Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press)

Vaping was originally touted to smokers as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but for some teens it's becoming a new addiction.

For Isobel Casey, a Grade 11 student at Seycove Secondary in North Vancouver, the problem hits close to home.

"I have some really close friends who last year didn't touch [e-cigarettes], and now it's every hour," Casey said.

"It used to just be some people but now you're seeing everyone get into it."

Last year, Seycove Secondary brought in temporary policies to lock all but two of the school's washrooms and monitor students leaving class because of a "very serious issue" with vaping.

Those kinds of policies don't get to the heart of the issue though, according to Casey.

"It's very easy to hide," she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The teen is so concerned about the health impacts on her generation that she's written a letter calling for better education about the risks and more support to help youth quit.

Her school principal will read the letter at an event about youth and vaping hosted by the North Vancouver School District Education Service Centre on Monday evening.

Isobel Casey, left, is a student in North Vancouver who is concerned about addiction among her friends. Dr. Milan Khara, right, is an addiction physician. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

Risk management with addiction 

Dr. Milan Khara, an addiction physician with Vancouver Coastal Health, emphasized the two sides of the debate around e-cigarettes.

"We do want to allow this product to be available and accessible for adult, addicted smokers because we believe that there's very good evidence that this product is safer than cigarettes," Dr. Khara said.

"But with that in mind, we are clearly developing a whole new problem, which is very rapid rises in the prevalence of use by young people and the potential for those young people to become nicotine-addicted."

Health Canada unveiled a new plan to curb vaping among young people this month, including putting more restrictions on ads and displaying various vape products as well as a public education campaign.

But when it comes to legislative changes — like in Australia, where vaping nicotine is now banned — more research is needed, Dr. Khara said.

"We need more data. Right now, we're working mainly with American data," he said.

"How do we balance the needs of addicted, adult smokers with the apparent disaster that is occurring amongst young people? What kind of regulation can we create that will fit both needs?"

With files from The Early Edition