They’ve been touted as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, but vaping products are casting a new veil of doubt in Canadians’ minds when it comes to the safety of children.
An Angus Reid study published Tuesday found that only 14 per cent of Canadians believe that vapes (a.k.a. e-cigarettes) and vaping products are doing more good than harm. Overall, regardless of their behaviours — whether they’re smokers, non-smokers or vapers — 86 per cent of Canadians support new government regulations banning the sale of vaping products to children under 18; more than 60 per cent believe that flavours like bubble gum and fruit, which could be enticing to minors, should be restricted.
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“When e-cigarettes first came into use, they were seen as a transition product from tobacco,” says Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute. “There was a case made at the time that these were better than cigarettes because the vapour didn’t linger as long, providing potential health benefits to both the smoker and those who inhale second-hand smoke.”
“But whether they do more good than harm is viewed through the lens of whether people are smokers or non-smokers.”
However, she points out, the fact that a vast majority of Canadians believe the government should not sell these products to minors indicates there’s a “significant amount of anxiety about the exposure of vaping products to young people.”
There are no conclusive studies to illustrate that vaping products are harmful, but that doesn’t mean health professionals aren’t concerned that vaping could lead to an addiction and that it could also act as a gateway to smoking traditional cigarettes.
“We need to differentiate between the two types of vaping devices: some contain nicotine and some don’t,” says Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association. “If you’re talking about a product that contains nicotine, which is one of the hardest addictions to break, you obviously don’t want a child consuming it.”
“If it doesn’t contain nicotine, then you’re inhaling a flavoured mist and there’s no immediate danger associated with that, although there is the fear that it could lead to cigarette smoking.”
While he says that there’s no conclusive evidence to back up the likelihood that vaping could lead to cigarettes, he doesn’t believe that the former isn’t without its dangers.
“One of our recommendations is to limit the use of flavours that could be appealing to children. Just as tobacco products have had limits placed on flavourings, we want to see the same limits on vaping devices.”
There is an argument to be made that vaping devices can be helpful to smokers of traditional cigarettes, as even those with nicotine don’t contain other, more harmful carcinogens, like tar. Therefore, they can be seen as a “harm-reduction tool.” But more research needs to be done on the device and how it delivers the product to the body.
“There’s a compound called 1,3-butadiene that’s used in the device and we don’t know much about its long-term use,” Culbert says.
That’s just another factor that adds to the anxiety around courting a young consumer who could potentially become a life-long user and it’s exactly the kind of grey area that casts such doubt in the minds of Canadians. The Angus Reid study also found that 60 per cent of people are “largely supportive” of the amendments made to the Tobacco Act which encompass e-cigarettes.
“Companies will say that you don’t have to put nicotine in ,” Kurl says. “But there’s palpable anxiety around exposing vaping products to kids. For smokers, they can provide an off-ramp from cigarettes, but for kids, they can provide an on-ramp.”
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