The facts are clear, the statistics are startling, the risks are frightening and the answer seems simple.
Yet studies show the number of young people in the province who vape continue to grow every year, becoming among the highest in the country.
For parents, it can be frustrating seeing teens blowing it off as harmless and irrelevant.
“Youth don’t always want to listen to old folks like us, but the bottom line is we keep trying,” said Kevin Coady, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco (ACT). “They say you have to repeat things many, many, many times before someone finally hears it, so we’re going to keep repeating it.”
As part of the effort to spread the message about the harm and risks associated with vaping, ACT was joined by provincial cabinet ministers to launch a new advertising campaign, entitled, “The New Look of Nicotine Addiction.” It was announced Wednesday during an event at the Fluvarium in St. John’s.
Aimed at parents and youth influencers, the campaign’s goal is to educate and inform adults about the harm and risks of vaping among youth and to encourage conversations with teens about it. As part of the campaign, information will be made available about vaping products, the harmful chemicals they contain, the various types and sizes of devices, and colours and flavours they include, the effects of nicotine contained in the devices that can alter teen brain development and the efforts by the vaping industry to target teens. Information will appear on social media and in online and billboard advertising.
Forty-seven per cent of students in Grade 7-12 in Newfoundland and Labrador have tried vaping, with almost 30 per cent of those using vapes in the last 30 days, according a recent survey by the 2018-19 Canadian Student Alcohol, Tobacco and Drug Survey.
Scott Antle, ACT’s board of directors chairman, said there’s a concern that youth experimenting and using electronic cigarettes may lead to an increase in nicotine addiction and an increase in commercial tobacco use. He said the campaign is crucial, as educating adults about vaping can help youth change their attitudes about it.
“Youth vaping has the potential to undo progress made in tobacco control efforts to reduce tobacco use,” said Antle, who noted vaping and smoking rates are intriguingly linked.
“This crisis has to be addressed immediately. We cannot stand by and watch our young people develop a lifelong addiction to nicotine.”
Craig Tavenor, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils and chairman of the O’Donel High School council in Mount Pearl, also spoke at Wednesday’s event. But above all else, he’s a parent who worries about what vaping will do to children and the community.
“It’s a massive health issue for all of us,” said Tavenor, a father of a 17-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter. “It’s basically taking our gifts away from us. Our kids are our potential. That’s our resources right there and for them to get involved with (vaping), it’s harmful, but we’ve got to help them get through.”
He said parents play a big role in guiding their children to become resilient individuals who can be strong enough to resist peer pressure.
“It’s easy to say no. It’s not so easy when it’s your peers you’re dealing with,” Tavenor said. “But maybe kids can say, ‘I just don’t think it’s right for me.’ Have the strength and conviction in your own personality that you won’t be influenced by peer pressure.
“And I can tell you, as a parent, I have no excuse not to have the information. If you don’t have the information, get it. It will help all of us.”
Lisa Dempster, minister of children, seniors and social development, said vaping has become a serious concern in this province, and tobacco and vaping industries are targeting youth.
“They want them hooked. They want them hooked for life,” she said. “So, we have to work together to fight back. … As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this because I’m a mom as well.”
Dempster announced that along with $92,000 provided to ACT over the last two years to develop and implement a youth vaping public education and awareness campaign, the government will provide an additional $75,000 to enable ACT to increase the frequency and duration of the campaign messages to reach more people.
“Whether you’re a parent, coach, group leader, teacher, health professional or another adult who works with young people,” she said, “we all have a role to play in talking with youth in our lives about the harms and risks of vaping.”