"Vaping" is the term for using a device where liquids, often flavoured, are turned into vapour (hence, vaping) and inhaled. A vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, tank or reservoir to hold the liquid, a heating element and a battery to power the element. The liquid is heated to become a mist, inhaled through the mouth into the lungs where the nicotine or cannabis enters the bloodstream. Any residual vapour is exhaled. Vaping devices come in several types, shapes, and sizes, referred to as e-cigarettes, vape pens, vapes, mods, tanks, or e-hookahs. Vaping liquid (e-liquid, e-juice) consists of a solvent, usually propylene glycol or glycerol, flavour, and nicotine or cannabis, though it may not contain anything. In British Columbia you must be 19 years old to buy vaping products.
The number of young people who smoke cigarettes has declined over the past few years, while vaping has increased. E-cigarettes were developed as an alternative to smoking. The first devices were available in 2003 and looked much like a traditional cigarette. Nicotine vapour contains significantly fewer toxins and other particles than smoke from cigarettes. Vaping is a less harmful alternative to cigarettes and evidence suggests, it may help some people quit smoking. Evidence suggests vaping is likely not a gateway to smoking tobacco.
Though less harmful than smoking cigarettes, vaping still carries potential harms. There is a small exposure to nicotine and possible carcinogens in the vapour. (A carcinogen is a substance that has the potential to cause cancer). Some evidence suggests that young people may be unaware the vaping liquid often contains nicotine. E-cigarettes are not controlled and the nicotine content of vaping liquids varies significantly among brands. Other chemicals, flavourings, and heavy metals present in vaping liquids, have not as yet been well studied. Long-term health risks from vaping are thus undetermined. More research is needed in these areas.
Marketing strategies for vaping products, often on social media, are designed to appeal to young people. The range of flavours available, especially those that are fruity and sweet, and the look and feel of vaping devices attract youth. Young people can see vaping as fun and a way to socialize with friends and 'smoke' in a less harmful way.
Making the time and space for discussion and exploring the issues around vaping is one important way we can support young people and indeed, each other, in making good decisions about if, when, or how much to vape. We offer, "not too much, not too often, and in a safe context" as one way to think about using any substance. What this means to you may be a place for talking to start!
About the author
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit www.cisur.ca.
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