In recent years, the rate of cigarette smoking among Ontario students has steadily declined, yet the rate of vaping has risen significantly. Shortly after this data was observed, federal laws prohibited the sales of vapes to any individual aged 19 and under, which applies to tobacco products as well. However, legal obstacles were not enough to dissuade curious teenagers from seeking vape products.
Findings from the 2019 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), revealed alarming trends. Through the comparison of 2017 and 2019 data, researchers found that vape usage during 2019 increased from 10.7 per cent to 22.7 per cent of Ontario students from grades 7 to 12. The 2019 vape usage rate peaked for grade 12 students, reaching 34.9 per cent.
There is a lack of research on vaping amongst post-secondary students, as vaping is a new topic of interest. However, a survey involving students from the University of Western Ontario revealed that 41 per cent of respondents aged 17 to 19 have vaped at least once of their life, and 52.9 per cent of respondents aged 20 to 25 state the same.
A survey published in March 2018 found that primary reasons for students to begin vaping include peer influence from family and friends, the captivating array of flavors for vapes, and a belief that vapes are less harmful than cigarettes.
While the effects of vaping are milder in comparison to smoking cigarettes, many of tobacco’s detrimental effects on health are still present in vapes. These repercussions are largely dependent on the vaping liquid inhaled, since its constituent chemicals differ depending on the product.
Nicotine negatively impacts memory and concentration. Researchers find that the substance also impacts brain development in adolescence, potentially causing behavioral problems in teenagers. In terms of physical health, nicotine increases blood pressure and thus the risk of heart attacks or other cardiovascular diseases.
Similarly, regular vaping has been attributed to increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, including but not limited to lung disease and asthma. This occurs as there are thousands of chemicals present in the aerosol inhaled when people vape—many of which are heavy metals confirmed to be harmful to the human body.
In like manner, while some of the chemicals present in vaping liquid are certified to be safe for use in short periods, there is a lack of research regarding the long-term effects of such chemicals. Though there is no guarantee that these chemicals are harmful, there is similarly no guarantee that they are harmless, which creates a non-negligible potential health risk for vaping.
A major concern regarding vaping is that while vapes originated as a lighter replacement for cigarettes, there is nothing stopping students who vape from becoming cigarette smokers in the future. Studies show that young adults who vape are four times as likely to smoke cigarettes within 18 months, and there is no doubt that cigarette smoking carries significant health risks and consequences.
While notably less deadly than cigarette smoking, vaping still creates a health risk for not only students who vape, but bystanders as well due to the presence of second-hand vapes. Because of this, it is crucial that high school and post-secondary students understand how vaping could affect their lives and the lives of those they care about.