[Éditorial de Louise-Maude Rioux Soucy] Young people and vaping, the end of recklessness

Ten years ago, vaping among high school kids was marginal. But while tobacco consumption continued to fall thanks to the combined effect of a tight legal framework and targeted awareness campaigns, the electronic cigarette was gaining followers among minors. In step with a market that has galloped off, its progress has grown so rapidly that it has overtaken the legal framework for these products, the finery and accessibility of which take us back in terms of public health.

The most recent Quebec survey on tobacco, alcohol, drugs and gambling among high school students, all ages combined, reveals that the proportion of young people who had vaped in the 30 days preceding the survey had quintupled in six years, from 4% in 2013 to 21% in 2019. Among the “old” of 4e and 5e secondary school, one in three young people admitted to having vaped during this period, although the law prohibits the sale of these products to minors. These alarming numbers have continued to rise, according to what colleague Marco Fortier has recently been able to document.

Vaping has often been promoted as a smoking cessation product, but evidence supporting this use is limited. First, because cases of vaping-associated lung disease (VAPD) are starting to increase. Then because it has become clear that, just like traditional cigarettes, vaping products (PV) are rapidly taking on the status of a socializing accessory, including among non-smokers. This is a slippery slope, the nicotine present in most VPs can also lead to addiction.

Dynamic and loosely controlled, the PV industry relies on appealing flavors and attractive packaging, which reinforce its association with low-risk pleasure. This position, she fiercely defends before Health Canada, which was literally inundated with comments – 25,000! — for its draft regulation aimed at limiting flavorings in the report.

It also benefits from sales facilitated by the online market and the carelessness of specialized establishments and convenience stores, which regularly put tickets in the hands of minors without checking their age. In addition to offering cartridges whose nicotine content exceeds up to two and a half times the legal limit of 20 mg / ml.

Not to mention the growing popularity of wax penamong these same young people. Illegal in Quebec, but allowed in neighboring Ontario, this drug allows the inhalation of a cannabis derivative at stratospheric concentration (sometimes up to 99% THC) light years away from the 30% allowed here. As she mimics the vapoteuse, the wax easily slips under the radar of those who watch over our young people.

All of this combines to give HP an innocuous aura. And that’s the rub. If vaping has been able to gain so many young followers in such a short period of time, it is because it has benefited from a laxity that is difficult to understand after the bitter war waged against cigarettes among this vulnerable clientele. There is no valid reason to postpone this new battle; we know his nature better, we know the weapons and techniques that work against an enemy like that.

And it presses. In a report dating from August 2020, the national director of public health already denounced “an epidemic of vaping among young people”. Concluding to “a serious public health problem” requiring “imminent action by the authorities”, he then made seven recommendations. Quebec committed last December to follow one of them by introducing a tax on vaping liquids, as Ottawa has already done.

And for the rest ? Quebec is treading water. We understand that the pandemic may have slowed government action, but not that the ministry has still not set a deadline for limiting the sale of such products to the public. Pressed with questions in the wake of our file, the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, agreed last week that the current situation was “inadmissible”. He promised that his government would require distributors to obey the law.

But he would still have to be able to count on a realistic portrait of the situation. Adept at data, Quebec ignores the number of distributors of tobacco and vaping products, their identity and their location. Limiting physical access and increasing prices are, however, the keystones of the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which also advocates a ban on the flavoring of VPs in order to dissuade young people from using them.

It is high time to give a boost to this file, the rapid evolution of which has allowed the industry to place all its pawns while our governments looked elsewhere. Failed, Ottawa, like Quebec, has the advantage of having an impressive range of tactics to bring an industry that has profited too much from its nonchalance into line. Bring out the heavy artillery.

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