Island teens hear about consequences of vaping

Health Canada is visiting P.E.I. high schools this week to try to combat what officials say is a concerning trend among teens in this country — more are vaping, or inhaling nicotine through e-cigarettes. 

'We're here to make them understand the fact it has harmful chemicals'

To get through a maze, students watch a video on the consequences of vaping, then correctly answer some questions. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Health Canada is visiting P.E.I. high schools this week to try to combat what officials say is a concerning trend among teens in this country — more are vaping, or inhaling nicotine through e-cigarettes. 

"The myth with teenagers is that it's a healthy option," said Kamel Mesallati with Health Canada.  

"Most of the teenagers think it's water vapour or it has no harmful chemicals. We're here to make them understand the fact it has harmful chemicals."

Health Canada is using an interactive maze to drive home the message. It was set up at Westisle Composite High School in Elmsdale on Thursday. 

'Way worse than I thought'

Students must complete a series of activities to get through the maze, all aimed at illustrating the consequences of vaping. 

'I did learn that nicotine is way worse than I thought,' said student Crystal Clements, right. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"I did learn that nicotine is way worse than I thought, and it can become an addiction," said Crystal Clements, a Grade 12 student at Westisle. "A lot of people think that you can't get an addiction but you really can."

The presentation also highlights the fact the nicotine inhaled through vaping can cause lung damage and alter teens' brain development. 

"Like, I never really knew much about the consequences of vaping before this," said Grade 11 student Leandra Jeffrey. 

"I think that cigarettes are kind of considered more bad than vaping, because you have tobacco in it and everything, where vaping you don't hear all that," added Grade 10 student Shailynn Richards. "You don't hear about all the chemicals, and it's a new thing."

New generation of nicotine users

Health Canada's Mesallati said while the intent of e-cigarettes may have originally been to provide smokers with a healthier alternative, most of the Island students he has spoken to who are vaping did not smoke before. 

'The myth with teenagers is that it's a healthy option,' says Kamel Mesallati with Health Canada. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Students CBC News spoke to said they are seeing the same thing. 

"This year vaping's kind of gone wild basically. It's become a lot more popular," said Richards. 

"People just think cigarettes stink now, where vaping, they have the flavours and they think it just smells better," added Jeffrey. 

"It kind of became a trend on social media and people just want to try, and fit in."

'You find it from other students'

It is illegal in Canada for anyone under 19 to purchase vaping products like e-cigarettes and nicotine juice. 

In one of the maze's challenges, students answer a series of questions on a tablet. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But students said it is not difficult for young people to get their hands on those products. 

"You see on Instagram or Snapchat, that someone has a vape for sale. So you find it from other students, or siblings over 19 maybe would [sell it]," said Richards. 

A group of Westisle students prepares to enter the maze. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Westisle's vice-principal Brian Gard said staff do catch students vaping and in possession of vaping products at school. 

Gard said it is school policy to confiscate the products and that it "usually leads to a suspension." He said he is hoping Health Canada's presentation will drive home that the health consequences are much greater than that. 

"We want to see students make smart choices, and healthy choices, and [vaping] is not one of them."

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About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.