Vaping on school buses and in classes: Pharmacist warns of high e-cigarette use among N.L. teens

Research has found the rate of teenage e-cigarette use in Newfoundland and Labrador is much higher than the national average.

Leslie Phillips says research shows e-cigarettes lead some teens to take up smoking tobacco

Newfoundland and Labrador teens have the highest rate of e-cigarette use in the country, a recent survey shows. (Regis Duvignau /Reuters)

A pharmacist is warning people to think twice about the notion that e-cigarette use, or vaping, is harmless.

"There's a general perception out there that e-cigarettes are safe. And they're certainly not safe," said Leslie Phillips.

"A lot of e-cigarettes contain nicotine, and nicotine is perhaps the most addictive substance in society today."

Every time the survey is done the rate of e-cigarette use is going up.- Leslie Phillips

Phillips says it's also a substance that can be harmful to developing brains.

"Adolescents' brains are not fully developed, and nicotine can affect things like cognitive abilities, things like concentration and memory and problem-solving, which are important to educational and occupational success later in life," she said.

The recently released Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs Survey found Newfoundland and Labrador Grade 7 to 12 students have the highest rate of having ever tried e-cigarettes, at 38 per cent, compared with a national average of 23 per cent.

Newfoundland and Labrador also has the highest percentage of youth having reported e-cigarette use in the last 30 days at 23 per cent, compared with the national average of 10 per cent.

I've had my son come home and ask me, 'Mom, are you allowed to vape on the bus?'- Leslie Phillips

Phillips, a parent, says she has heard stories about the prevalence of vaping in St. John's-area high schools.

"I've had my son come home and ask me, 'Mom, are you allowed to vape on the bus?' My son has talked about people sitting behind him in class and vaping … blowing down into their knapsacks so their teachers can't see it."

Encouraging or discouraging tobacco use?

E-cigarettes are sold as a product that helps people quit smoking, but Phillips says there's reason to believe they actually lead people to take up the habit.

"We've gone a long way toward curbing smoking in society, and then something like the e-cigarette comes along and we are essentially normalizing smoking again," said Phillips.

"We are probably, as well, promoting smoking, particularly in youth. There are a number of studies that show that youth that use e-cigarettes are anywhere from two to seven times more likely to go on to smoke tobacco cigarettes."

Leslie Phillips is a pharmacist and a professor at Memorial University's school of pharmacy and its school of medicine. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

She says vaping doesn't appear to have reduced smoking rates.

"There has been an exponential growth in the sales of e-cigarettes. There has been no change in the sales of tobacco and no substantive decline in the rate of tobacco smoking since the advent of e-cigarettes," said Phillips. 

"On a large scale, I don't think the evidence is there to say that they are an effective smoking cessation tool."

Federal legislation changes 

New federal rules came into effect in May that allow for e-juice that contains nicotine, with regulations controlling how much nicotine vaping products can contain.

There are also regulations about making health claims about vaping, candy and dessert flavouring and more control over who can access the products.

"It's a good start but will it solve our problem? Definitely not," says Phillips.

Some e-juice used in e-cigarettes contains nicotine. (cbc)

She says people will always find a way around the regulations but she believes that more education of students, teachers and parents can reduce teen vaping.

CBC News attempted to contact several stores selling e-cigarettes and related products but did not receive comment by publication time.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said regulations allowing nicotine in e-cigarette products would come into effect later in 2018. In fact, that regulation came into effect in May.
    Sep 17, 2018 9:03 AM NT