E-cigarette use increasing amongst teens, study shows

A new study suggests more teens are using e-cigarettes, which may be a gateway for nicotine addiction amongst young people.

Researchers, province fear e-cigarettes could become gateway for cigarette use

E-cigarette use is increasing amongst teens, a new study says. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

A new study suggests more teens are using e-cigarettes, which may be a gateway for nicotine addiction amongst young people with little to no regulation in Alberta.

Dr. Michael Khoury, a pediatrician at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, conducted a study with 2,300 Grade 9 students in Ontario.

He found that 10 per cent of students surveyed had used electronic cigarettes.

Of the 230 e-cigarette users, Khoury said 75 per cent did not use them for their intended use: to help kick nicotine addiction.

"[They were] using e-cigarettes primarily because they thought it was cool or fun," he said in an interview with Edmonton AM Thursday.

"We didn't assess the attitudes toward actual cigarettes, but you can imagine it's much the same.

"It's a teenager mind who is going to be naturally inquisitive and ... be drawn to things that are perceived to be cool and fun."

The provincial and federal governments have been successful in marketing regular cigarettes as unpopular and unhealthy, but e-cigarettes marketed in various flavours are beginning to undo some of the work, Khoury says.

'Poorly studied field'

Khoury calls e-cigarettes a "poorly studied field."

Some studies, including one funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, have shown e-cigarette use is higher amongst Grade 9 students and that as many as 21 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls studied had tried e-cigarettes.
New electronic cigarette rules in the USA has many here saying Canada should follow suit. 2:24

Others, like Britain's Royal College of Physicians,say it's much safer than smoking.

But Khoury said there hasn't been enough work to draw definitive conclusions about the adverse effects of e-cigarettes.

"[E-cigarettes] haven't been around long enough," he said.

He believes there are not enough regulations concerning e-cigarettes, saying that though some are nicotine-free, others aren't.

This means the teens that are likely to use the products may be unknowingly addicted to nicotine.

Khoury says e-cigarettes are marketed as tools to help adults quit smoking, but the vanilla, peanut butter and grape flavours are just as enticing as flavoured tobacco is.

"E-cigarettes are useful to help adults smoke less," Khoury said, "but when put in the hands of teens, it may counter that and predispose them to smoking in the future."

Regulations in Alberta

The provincial government banned flavoured and menthol cigarettes last May in an effort to discourage younger people from smoking.

Electronic cigarettes have rose to prominence since then.

Brent Friesen, with Alberta's Provincial Tobacco Reduction Program, says there is little federal regulation on the products, though he expects the government to prepare a response to recommendations that they be treated similarly to cigarettes.

In a written statement, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said, "We are closely monitoring the latest research associated with electronic cigarettes and working with our partners to help ensure we are taking all necessary steps to protect children and teens from the dangers of cigarette use."
The ban on menthol cigarettes went into effect last fall. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says in a statement they are keeping a close eye on new studies regarding e-cigarettes. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With files from the Canadian Press