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Learning about the health risks of electronic cigarettes containing nicotine, otherwise known as vape pens, can encourage young users to rethink their habit according to a 2023 study from researchers at Western University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
Researcher Babac Salmani said that the long-term effects of vaping or smoking vapour are not yet fully understood.
“Long-term nicotine use, which is common in vaping, can lead to addiction, changes in brain development, and mood disorders. More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of vaping,” Salmani said.
Regular nicotine consumption, however, has moderate to severe side effects such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea – all of these can be indicators of lung damage.
Vaping can also make users tired. Although this symptom is more common among new users, any long-term symptoms including lack of energy, shortness of breath during physical activity, and wheezing can be indicators of various lung diseases. One possible outcome is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that blocks airflow to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
*Kaitlyn Morrison, a fourth-year politics and governance student at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), said that she has drastically reduced her habit after experiencing some of the side effects.
“I started to get more active last year by going to the gym or hiking with friends and I noticed I was getting winded really quickly. I didn’t know for sure, but it seemed like my lungs were crappy and I assumed it was because of my smoking habits,” Morrison said.
While Morrison still vapes sometimes, she is trying to find a healthier habit to replace the cravings.
Vape pens are mostly used by young people, with 23 per cent of students in Canada having tried vaping, according to a study from Heart and Stroke Foundation. Ever since its legalization in Canada in 2018, vaping has often been marketed as a less dangerous alternative to smoking cigarettes.
However, nicotine in any form is highly addictive. While the levels of nicotine vary for different brands, a study from the Canadian Lung Association found that one vape pen from the brand JUUL has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes, which is approximately one pack.
*Aarya Das, a fourth-year business management student, stopped vaping after experiencing side effects.
“I developed a high amount of red blood cells and my blood became really thick. I had to get checked for blood cancer,” Das said.
A change in red blood cell count can be because of environmental factors such as living at a high altitude, which is not necessarily a reason to panic, according to a study from Cleveland Clinic. However, they can also form from consuming nicotine.
Another distinct feature of vaping is its smell and taste, which differs greatly from cigarettes. In fact, there are over 7,000 flavours of vape pens, inspired by things like desserts, candy, fruits, beverages, spices and much more.
Das said she started vaping when she was in high school because of the appealing flavours.
“The vapes look nice and the smoke smells great. There is a nice aesthetic of vaping,” Das said.
A study from Reuters said that the appeal of vaping lures in a young demographic, with some kids starting to vape as young as 12 years old. This appeal can also explain why child poisoning due to accidental exposure and the consumption of e-liquids are on the rise, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Ontario introduced increased regulations around selling vaping products in 2020. All flavoured products can only be sold at specialty vaping and cannabis stores, with the exception of menthol, mint and tobacco, which are exempt from those restrictions. While there was a push to ban all flavours except for those three in 2021, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are the only provinces with these regulations.
In Canada, it is illegal to sell or provide any vaping products to people who are under the age of 18. Provinces like Ontario and British Columbia increased the age requirement to 19, according to Canada Vapes.
Age restrictions and laws around purchasing vapes have been in place since their legalization. Despite this, Das recalls having easy access to purchasing vape pens when she first started.
“Back in high school, there was no regulation at all around vapes. You could literally go to the drug store, pick one up and leave. No one would ask for ID,” Das said.
There are many other things that can be done to reduce underage vaping. Salmani said that one effective strategy is to strictly enforce age restrictions on the sale of vaping products.
“This can be done by requiring ID checks for anyone who attempts to purchase vaping products. Vape shops and other retailers can also be penalized if they sell vaping products to minors. In addition, parents and caregivers can talk to their children about the dangers of vaping and the importance of avoiding nicotine products,” Salmani said.
At TMU, there are resources to help educate students on the dangers of substance abuse. The Health Promotion Program exists to promote awareness and advocate for students to take care of their own health and wellbeing. For substance use, there are currently resources for cigarette and cannabis smoking, but nothing specific to vaping.
A representative of the Health Promotion Program said via email that they are creating an awareness campaign called Substances and TMU, which will take place from March 27 to 31, 2023.
As part of this campaign, they plan to have some information for students on vaping and create a foundation for future campaigns on substance use awareness. Additionally, they are hoping to hear directly from students and use this information to help inform future attendees.
Salmani said that schools and universities should be incorporating lessons about the impacts of vaping into their curriculum.
“This can be done through classroom lessons, posters, and other educational materials that provide information about the health risks of vaping,” Salmani said. “In addition, schools and universities can establish policies that prohibit vaping on campus.”
*The names of certain sources have been changed to protect their anonymity because they were concerned about societal and family reactions.