PEI

Cancer society wants legal age for buying tobacco, vaping products raised to 21

The Canadian Cancer Society is lobbying the P.E.I. government to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products from 19 to 21. 

Society lobbying P.E.I. government, pointing to increase in smoking and vaping by young people

The Canadian Cancer Society says it met with provincial MLAs to discuss raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products from 19 to 21. (CBC)

The Canadian Cancer Society is lobbying the P.E.I. government to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products from 19 to 21. 

Members of the society met with government MLA's this week, and pointed to a sharp rise in both vaping and cigarette smoking by teenagers as a reason to change the law. 

"It's really disturbing particularly because over the past number of years, we've seen declines in tobacco smoking rates particularly among this age demographic," said Kelly Cull, the society's senior manager of public affairs.  

"So to see the pendulum shifting the other way is quite troubling and concerning and really requires some swift and decisive action on the part of our policymakers."

Vaping, smoking on the rise

A study issued Thursday by the British Medical Journal found that among Canadians 16-19 years old, the percentage who said they vape — that is, inhale nicotine through e-cigarettes — jumped from 8.4 per cent to 14.6 per cent between 2017 and 2018. 

Over that same time, the percentage who said they smoke cigarettes rose from 10.7 per cent to 15.5 per cent. 

'We know that the data tells us that young people who use vaping products are also more likely to experiment with tobacco products,' says Cull. (Regis Duvignau /Reuters)

"We see the increase in youth vaping rates is definitely having an impact on youth smoking rates," said Cull.  "We know that the data tells us that young people who use vaping products are also more likely to experiment with tobacco products."

Cull said it's clear many teens under 19 are already getting their hands on e-cigarettes, vape juice, and tobacco. 

We're trying to remove the legal purchaser from the high school setting, and increasing the age to 21 would really accomplish that.— Kelly Cull, Canadian Cancer Society

So what would raising the legal purchasing age to 21 accomplish? 

The society suspects it would make it harder for teens to find older friends willing to buy the products for them. 

It points out that while no province in Canada has raised the legal age to 21, some states in the U.S. have, which it says has led to a drop in smoking and vaping rates among young people. 

"We're trying to remove the legal purchaser from the high school setting, and increasing the age to 21 would really accomplish that," said Cull. 

Grade 12 students Luke Vail and Kolbe Grant say they have seen an increase in vaping around their school. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Some students at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown say they see the need for cracking down on vaping in particular. 

"You know, every break, every lunch, in between classes, there's large groups of people always out in the parking lot vaping, and even in the bathrooms," said Luke Vail, a Grade 12 student. "I think [raising the legal age] would stop a lot of people from getting vapes."

A 1st for Canada?

Cull said while the society is planning to lobby provincial governments across the country, she's hopeful P.E.I.'s new minority government will be the first to make the change. 

"We know that it's on the agenda of a number of parties on P.E.I. to look more closely at preventative health. And we feel that this certainly fits the mandate of working to prevent chronic diseases before they happen," she said. 

Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward says the information from the Canadian Cancer Society will be shared within his department. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Health Minister James Aylward said at this point, his government isn't committing to anything. But he says the society's pitch has led to a "good conversation internally."

"It's scientific fact that smoking isn't good for you. So as a government, anything we can do to help Islanders live a healthier lifestyle, that certainly is our mandate."

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