Saskatchewan

'We have a big problem': Spike in youth vaping sparks calls for legislation

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging Saskatchewan’s health minister to introduce legislation to combat youth vaping.

Youth vaping sees 74 per cent increase in Canada

The Canadian Cancer Society wants Saskatchewan to raise to legal age of purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21. (Aliaksandr Barouski/Shutterstock)

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging Saskatchewan's health minister to introduce legislation to combat youth vaping.

A recent study released by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows a 74 per cent increase in vaping among youth in Canada from 2017 to 2018.

"These numbers are shocking to us and I'm sure shocking to any parent or teacher out there as well," said Donna Pasiechnik, Health Policy Analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society.

"These high rates of vaping among kids threaten to undermine all the work that we have done to reduce youth smoking over the last 20 years."

Pasiechnik said educators in the province have told her they are seeing children as young as 10 and 11 vaping.

"We have a big problem on our hands. We risk seeing another generation of kids hooked on nicotine," she said.

"In Saskatchewan we already have the highest youth smoking rates, nearly three times the national average."

Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only provinces that have not regulated vaping. 

The cancer society is asking the province to:

  • Increase the age to purchase vaping and tobacco products to 21.
  • Remove and restrict displays promotion vaping and e-cigarettes at stores.
  • Move flavoured products to adult-only shops.

"We have a plan that would cost the provincial government virtually nothing. They just need the political will to do it," Pasiechnik said.

The study was done by the University of Waterloo and publsihed in the BMJ. It found that smoking rates are no longer dropping.

"After several decades of steady decline, smoking among 15 to 19 year olds did not change significantly between 2015 and 2017," the report said.

These numbers are shocking to us.- Donna Pasiechnik, Canadian Cancer Society

The study also looked at the impact of legal cannabis.

"The increases in vaping and smoking in Canada from 2017 to 2018 were not directly related to increased cannabis use over the same period," the report said.

NDP says 'treat vaping like smoking'

The Saskatchewan NDP is also calling for immediate action from the province on vaping.

"It's absolute madness that something that was designed to help people quit smoking is actually turning into a way for big tobacco companies to get people hooked on their products again," said NDP Leader Ryan Meili.

"It's time to treat vaping like smoking."

On Thursday, NDP MLA Vicki Mowat sent a letter to Health Minister Jim Reiter.

The NDP is asking the province to:

  • Ban vaping where smoking is banned.
  • Prohibit vaping product promotion and sales where the same is done for tobacco products.
  • Enact flavoured tobacco legislation.
  • Restrict sale of tobacco at sports and rec. facilities.
  • Make playgrounds and sport facilities smoke-free.
  • Require a license to sell tobacco.

Meili said the government should also be collecting tax on vaping and e-cigarette products.

Minister 'concerned' by study findings

In a statement, Reiter said he recently met with the cancer society and has an upcoming meeting with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.

"We have seen this study and are concerned with the results," Reiter said in an email.

"Our government is considering the possibility of introducing legislation on vaping."

Reiter said said he will continue to work with provincial and federal ministers "with the goal of protecting the health of Saskatchewan youth."

A woman smokes a Juul e-cigarette in New York. The company says its product is intended for adults who already smoke and never people who are underage. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

According to the lung association, Saskatchewan spends the lowest amount per capita of any province on tobacco control, approximately 35 cents per capita compared to the national average of $1.04.

On Thursday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that province is ready to step up with tougher provincial restrictions on vaping following new research showing skyrocketing rates of e-cigarette rates by Canadian teens.

Dix said B.C. has recommended federal regulatory action on advertising of vaping products, along with restrictions on nicotine concentrations and sales of flavoured vaping liquids.

Vaping companies on lobbyists registry

The Canadian Vaping Association is listed on the Saskatchewan Lobbyists Registry as of January 2019.

The Toronto-based non-profit aims "to discuss the legislation governing vaping that currently exists at a federal level and determine whether the Province of Saskatchewan will be tabling legislation to regulate this industry," according to its registry entry.

The study also found that a rise in vaping correlates to popularity of the San Francisco-based electronic cigarette company Juul Labs Inc.

"The findings suggest that vaping among young people might be changing in North American markets, in parallel with the rise of Juul and the rapid emergence of nicotine salt vaping products," the report said.

Juul vaping product (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Juul is listed on the Saskatchewan Lobbyists Registry, with its most recent registration in February 2019.

The Ministry of Health was quick to point out that Juul's lobbyist, Ottawa-based Garry Keller, has not lobbied Premier Scott Moe or Reiter directly.

In August 2018, Mr. Keller had an introductory phone conversation with the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Premier and the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Health. 

"The purpose of this call was an introduction to Juul Labs prior to their launch into the Canadian market, and no specific legislation, regulations, policies or programs were discussed. Since this introductory conversation, the Premier's office and the Minister of Health's office have had no further meetings or discussions with this company, their representatives, or any other vaping company," the ministry said.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from The Canadian Press

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