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New national data shows Canadian teens are among the highest in the world in regular e-cigarette use, and experts say a lack of federal action and the widespread availability of flavored e-cigarettes is fueling a growing crisis, the CBC reported today.
The latest results from Health Canada's Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey, which surveyed 61,096 youth in grades 7 to 12 across nine provinces between September 2021 and June 2022, found that 29% of Canadian students have tried e-cigarettes.
That number dropped slightly in Canada overall, down from 34 percent in the 2018-19 school year, but was higher among older age groups - 41 percent of students in grades 10 to 12 had ever smoked an e-cigarette.
Regular e-cigarette use is also widespread in Canada, with 17 percent of students using e-cigarettes in the past month, down slightly from 20 percent in the 2018-19 school year, but up again by 12 among students in grades 10 to 19, with more than 24 percent of users being monthly users.
Daily e-cigarette use was 8 percent of all students surveyed, and nearly 12 percent of students in grades 10 to 12 -- one of the highest rates ever recorded worldwide, experts said.
David Hammond, a professor of public health at the University of Waterloo and a Canadian youth vaping researcher, said: "The data confirm that Canada has one of the highest rates of teen vaping in the world, particularly as it relates to daily vaping.
"We've basically stabilized at historically high levels of daily vaping... That's probably the best sign that we're in a long-term, regular vaping state - we've crossed the threshold of becoming fashionable."
Canadian teen vaping rates are unacceptably high
That's up from five years ago, when only 10 percent of students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, while 11 percent reported daily use in 2016-2017 - a sign that the problem is growing and shows no signs of slowing down.
The new youth vaping survey data also partially predates the widespread availability of single-use e-cigarettes, which come on the market last year with thousands of pre-packs, no refills or cartridges, and have been linked to the surge in youth vaping.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said: "We are very concerned about the long-term problem that youth e-cigarette use remains high - unacceptably high.
"We need the federal government to take immediate action to ban flavored e-cigarettes, which are a contributing factor to these high rates."
When asked what flavor they preferred, the survey showed that 63 percent of students in grades 7 through 12 who had vaped in the past month used fruit flavors most often.
"There's no question that flavor is a big part of teen e-cigarettes - they're appealing to kids, which is one of the reasons they started trying e-cigarettes in the first place, and fruit flavors and candy flavors are a big part of that." "Hammond said.
"The main reason adults use e-cigarettes is to help them quit or not die from smoking - the relative impact of taste on e-cigarette use is much greater for teens than it is for adults."
In contrast, youth smoking rates in Canada continue to decline dramatically - only 14 percent of Canadian high school students report ever smoking, down from 19 percent in 2018-19, and only 1 percent smoke daily.
"Over time, we've seen a decrease in teen smoking. It's because of high taxes, high prices, plain packaging and menthol bans." "Cunningham said.
"But unfortunately, when you include smoking and e-cigarettes, nicotine use overall is going up...... we have a huge problem, a new generation is becoming addicted to nicotine and we need immediate government action to respond to that."
Health Canada does nothing about young people vaping
The federal government in June 2021 sounded the alarm about the rapid increase in youth e-cigarette use in Canada and contributed to the growing number of youth e-cigarette use by proposing changes to the Tobacco and e-Cigarette Products Act to regulate the sale of desirable flavors.
But two years later, as experts point out, Canada still has one of the highest rates of teen vaping in the world, and little has been done on a national level to regulate taste.
Health Canada is aware of and very concerned about the high rate of e-cigarette use among Canadian youth, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CBC News.
He added that they were still reviewing feedback from a public consultation on flavoured e-cigarettes that closed in September 2021. .
E-cigarettes have been marketed as an effective way to quit smoking, but e-cigarettes have never been approved as a smoking cessation aid in Canada.
The federal government's proposed restrictions on e-cigarette flavors - such as cereal milk, marshmallow, unicorn milk and dragon's blood - are expected to help make e-cigarette products less appealing to young people, while still allowing adults to try to quit some flavor options.
But experts and health advocates say Health Canada appears to have shelved the proposal to further regulate tastes that appeal to young people, leaving it up to industry and the provinces to act.
In the absence of national regulations, multiple territories and provinces have taken action, with the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec now banning the sale of most flavors of e-cigarettes in an effort to curb teen vaping.
Health Canada did set new rules for the amount of nicotine allowed in e-cigarettes, setting a maximum concentration of 20 milligrams per milliliter as of July 2021. But it does not impose any rules on taste.
"The reason we don't see much lower use of e-cigarettes in these provinces is because the taste restrictions don't have any effect on their use." Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada.
"Provincial restrictions will only be effective if federal action is taken... It is deeply troubling that Health Canada is effectively sitting on its hands while this problem continues to be so serious."