by Michelle Sauvé
The start of the school year is such an exciting time! There are many ‘firsts’ for children and lots of new opportunities. Unfortunately, for some children and teens, there is one ‘first’ that many are entirely unprepared for. It is the pressure to try ‘vaping’ with a device called a vape, also known as e-cigarettes, mods, e-hookahs or cloud pens. If you aren’t sure what these electronic smoking products are, take a closer look at the big ‘clouds’ drifting around inside cars or surrounding people outside schools and convenience stores.
I recently chatted with a school counsellor to learn about the use of e-cigarettes in our schools. She told me, “the biggest thing I hear is that vaping is totally fine for everyone to use and that parents think it is safe; there is no nicotine in them so parents are buying them for their teens.” She went on to say, “I would love to see more information available to teens and their parents about the reality of vaping.”
The facts about vapes or e-cigarettes can be found at MyHealth.Alberta.ca and AlbertaQuits.ca but here are a few things parents need to know:
These products are battery-operated devices that have cartridges with liquid chemicals in them, often called e-juice or vape juice. Heat from a battery-powered atomizer turns the chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled by the user. Some of these products look like regular cigarettes, some look like flasks. There are other electronic smoking products that look like cigars and pipes.
These products have not been fully tested by Health Canada and Canadians are warned not to purchase or use them. Alberta Health Services supports Health Canada’s position and warnings.
There are no standards or labelling requirements for vapes. Because of this, it is difficult to know what chemicals are in these products. There are close to 8,000 flavours of vape liquid, including candy flavours. While some of the chemicals used to create the flavours are deemed food-safe, they have not been approved for inhalation.
The flavourings may be tempting to children. Keep these products out of reach of children. Health Canada warns that e-cigarettes may cause nicotine poisoning, either by absorption if swallowed or if spilled on the skin. Even a small amount of the juice can be harmful or even fatal to a young child or small pet. If the liquid comes into contact with the skin or is swallowed, contact the Poison and Drug Information Services (PADIS) toll-free at 1-800-332-1414 for advice.
Along with the health hazards, fires and explosions have also been reported. It is important not to leave the product unattended while charging, not to charge them in moving vehicles, and to only use the charging system approved for the product.
Even though it is illegal in Canada to sell vapes or liquids that have nicotine in them, tests done by Health Canada found about half of vape liquids that were labelled “nicotine free” actually contained nicotine. Nicotine is a powerful and highly addictive drug. It can affect brain development in children and teens.
What can parents do? Being open to talking about the harms of e-cigarettes with children can make all the difference. Learn all you can about the product so you know what they look like. Parents also need to know that e-cigarettes don’t leave a smell like tobacco so your child could be vaping and you may not know it. Educate your kids that e-cigarettes may contain nicotine, which is a HIGHLY addictive substance.
Questions about e-cigarettes? For Lethbridge and area, contact Katie Wieler, Tobacco Reduction Counsellor at Addiction and Mental Health Services by phone 403-381-5918 or email [email protected]. For Medicine Hat and area, contact Michelle Sauvé, Tobacco Reduction Counsellor at Addiction and Mental Health Services by phone 403-529-3529 or email [email protected]
Everyone is also invited to attend a parent information session “Vapes, Alcohol and Marijuana” at the Medicine Hat Public Library November 22 at 7 pm.