A Lambton Public Health promoter says e-cigarettes are a “Trojan horse” for young users.
Slick product design and attractive marketing make the tobacco alternative appealing to young people, despite new evidence they pose a health risk, Evan Stevens said.
“They’re selling you an image, which is going right back to the way cigarettes were originally marketed,” Stevens told a Seaway Kiwanis Club meeting last week. “These are things that kids are going to identify with.”
E-cigarettes are small, electronic devices that users puff on and emit plumes of white vapour. Stevens cited U.S. statistics showing 23% of high school students use the devices, which are paired with pods of flavoured “e-juice.”
The $48-billion industry touts vaping as a smoking cessation tool, but most young users who vape had never used tobacco before, Stevens noted.
Health officials say e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. But the flavour pods of e-juice are still largely unregulated in Canada, and the nicotine and other chemicals they contain can impact the health of younger users, he said.
Just one flavour pod can contain as much nicotine as 1.5 packs of cigarettes, Stevens said, and the average user goes through two pods per day.
Six deaths have been recorded in the U.S. in the last year from acute respiratory disease linked to vaping, he said. More than 500 cases were reported in 33 U.S. states as of last week, prompting the Trump administration to propose a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes.
The first Canadian case was identified last week in London, Ont. It’s not entirely clear what’s causing the spike in cases.
Doctors are reporting more hospitalizations as a result of vaping pods that contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive substance in cannabis, Stevens said.
The pods also contains vitamin E acetate, an oily chemical the body has difficulty flushing from the lungs.
Breathing problems similar to symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are linked to propylene glycol, the e-juice ingredient that creates the thick white vapour vaping is known for.
Nicotine is more addictive than heroin, increases stress levels, thins blood, and impacts the brain development of youths, Stevens said.
“These changes (are) more severe the more frequently you’re exposed to nicotine, and the earlier you’re exposed. With kids now starting as young and 12 or so… it’s becoming that much worse.”
Even e-juice marketed as nicotine-free can’t be trusted because producers aren’t required to list all ingredients, he added.
Stevens, who also coaches track and field locally, said he’s noticed a decline in athletic performance among his students after they start vaping.
Students can be fined $300 to $500 for vaping or sharing e-cigarettes on school property under the Clean Air Ontario act, he said.
Buyers of vaping products must be 19 or older, but most students get them from older siblings or parents, he added.