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Canadians like to think of ourselves as a progressive society and have a sense of pride that we are ahead of much of the world when it comes to social issues such as equal rights for women and members of the LGBTQ2 community. While this is generally true, this progressive stance does not always carry over into other important areas which can contribute to a healthy and happy population; in fact, we are behind the curve when it comes to the impact of vaping on our youth, and recent evidence suggests that our lack of action in this area is having a negative impact on efforts to reduce smoking rates among this group.
A study released last year by the University of Waterloo appears to confirm this worrying trend. The study found that vaping rates soared among Canadian youth by 74 per cent in one year and, in the same period, tobacco smoking rose by 45 per cent. This brought the rate of smoking among youth in line with smoking rates among adults. This is the first time that youth smoking rates have risen substantially in decades and this should be raising alarm bells for anyone concerned with the health of our young people and, indeed, our entire population.
What was originally touted as an effective method to quit smoking - and it still can provide this service - has become a gateway for youth into smoking. Vaping liquids are permitted to contain a much higher percentage of nicotine than conventional cigarettes, leading to faster reliance on this drug.
With the recent surge in cases of youth having serious lung diseases from vaping, any young person wanting to quit has to deal with this reliance on nicotine and smoking cigarettes has become the next best option. We risk losing the progress that has been made in reducing smoking rates if we don't act quickly and decisively to curb vaping rates among Canadians.
While many provinces have taken their own steps by passing various regulations to restrict vaping, there is no consistent approach across the country. This means that youth continue to be at higher risk depending on where they live in Canada. This is too important of an issue for Health Canada to abrogate responsibility back to the provinces.
We have failed our youth in allowing vaping liquids to be sold in a lot of fruity and sweet flavours, which were sure to appeal to young people and were clearly designed to be marketed to this population; we also failed to restrict such advertising. We have failed to sufficiently limit the amount of nicotine such products can contain, creating conditions in which youth can become hooked more quickly. We have failed to require the companies that sell these products to place the health risks of using them directly on the packaging so that people can at least be clearly aware of the possible consequences of vaping. In short, we have failed to heed the lessons we have learned from the impact of tobacco smoking on our society and we could have reasonably assumed that such risks existed before we allowed these products to be sold in this country.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize that inhaling a substance containing nicotine - whether in the form of tobacco or a liquid - can lead to dependence and can damage the lungs of the person doing so. We are now reaping the consequences of this failure and the result has been increased lung illness, more youth vaping and increased youth smoking.
We can't wait for further studies before taking action to protect the future of our nation; the time for Health Canada to act is now, before we have another generation hooked on nicotine that have to bear the negative health outcomes it inevitably creates.
I just hope that we aren't too late to curtail the impact of this problem and that federal politicians find the will to take concrete action now.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.