Ottawa

Bylaw crackdown smoking out vapers at Ottawa schools

The number of fines issued for vaping on school property in Ottawa grew an estimated three-fold last year as bylaw officers continue to crack down on students trying to sneak a quick smoke between classes. 

Fines for e-cigarette use on school property tripled last year

Bylaw officers say the majority of fines handed out during the 2018-2019 school year were for students caught vaping indoors. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The number of fines issued for vaping on school property in Ottawa grew an estimated three-fold last year as bylaw officers continue to crack down on students trying to sneak a quick smoke between classes. 

From the end of October 2018 to June 2019, Ottawa bylaw officers issued nearly 150 fines to students caught vaping on school property. 

"That is a huge increase in the numbers," said Jennifer Thomsen, a tobacco enforcement officer with Ottawa's bylaw department.

"Normally, we would see around ... the 50 enforcement action mark, and it was all for tobacco and it was all outside."

Thomsen said the majority of the offences last year occurred indoors, where students were caught puffing on e-cigarettes in school bathrooms, locker rooms, hallways and even during class.

Fines range from $305 to $490. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"One of the issues is the kid's really addicted to the nicotine and can't get outside, or they think because it doesn't smell as bad or because it's not fire then it's OK to sneak it inside," Thomsen said. 

On the contrary, Thomsen said, there's been zero tolerance since the Smoke Free Ontario Act came into force last October.

To help enforce it, bylaw officers patrol schools and offer presentations at assemblies to warn students they'll be watching. 

Jennifer Thomsen, a tobacco enforcement officer with Ottawa's bylaw department, says the majority of the offences last year involved students caught vaping indoors. 0:56

Hefty fines

Students who are caught vaping on school property face a fine of $305, or $490 if they're caught sharing with others. 

That's a hefty price to pay, according to students at Lisgar Collegiate Institute, but many aren't convinced it will deter vaping among youth.

Edward Scromeda said he doesn't vape, but the 17-year-old said many of his peers do. 

"If enough people do it and they're discreet, which they are generally when vaping, then I don't think they're necessarily going to get a ticket," Scromeda said. 

Richard Wu, 17, agreed. 

"I think in teenage culture, the more risky or dangerous something is, it actually helps incentivize it," Wu said.

More and more Ottawa students are getting slapped with tickets for vaping at school. But are fines enough to make them kick the habit? 9:27

Vaping misconceptions

Ottawa's medical officer of health said vaping among youth is on the rise in the city, and many young people don't realize the health consequences that come with it. 

Dr. Vera Etches said that's why Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is advocating for Health Canada to limit e-cigarette flavours and advertising that appeal to youth. 

A sample of the vaping products confiscated by school staff in Ottawa last year. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"Education is one strategy, enforcement is another strategy, but really, if you want to change people's behaviour, the most important thing is to change the environment," Etches said. 

She said OPH had success in decreasing cigarette use among youth and plans to use the same strategies to spread awareness about vaping products.

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