A doctor working closely with Salmon Arm adolescents says the challenges surrounding student access to vaping products are greater than previously believed.
Dr. Richard Currie, who works at Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus Wellness Centre, a medical and counselling clinic operated inside the high school, said a 2018 study, the BC Adolescent Health Survey, is already outdated due to the rising popularity of vaping products. The study found the percentage of youths using tobacco dropped between 2008 and 2013, then remained static through to 2018.
“Vaping is increasingly trendy and these stats are already outdated,” Currie said. “Almost certainly the numbers now are even higher. Some students believe that they are using a nicotine-free product but given the informal sources, this is not always true.”
The same study also concluded the most common “tobacco” products used by students in a given month were vaping products, either with or without nicotine. Fifteen per cent of youths who had never smoked tobacco were vaping with nicotine.
Currie attributed the high frequency of vaping among students to a combination of easy access, easy concealment and general misinformation.
Vape juices come in a variety of types and flavours, some containing nicotine and some not. However, being able to determine which is which can be a challenge.
“A product that is sold as nicotine-free, or produced non-commercially in someone’s basement and sold as nicotine-free, very commonly does contain nicotine,” Currie said, adding some commercial products contain more nicotine than an individual could smoke in several packs of cigarettes.
Several students have come to the Wellness Centre looking for more information about the risks associated with vaping. Currie said the main two risks are the poorly understood but deadly phenomenon of E-Vaping Associated Lung Injury, which can leave otherwise healthy youth in the ICU or needing intubation, as well as nicotine addiction.
School District 83 has cracked down on vaping and issued 100 vaping-related infractions last year.
A similar number is projected for this year as well.
In an attempt to further understand the vaping situation at Sullivan, an in-school survey was conducted in June 2019. The survey had 200 responses from students in grades 10, 11, and 12. More than 70 per cent of respondents said they tried vaping.
Monica Kriese, the SD 83 Wellness Centre coordinator, said the few students who have come to the centre seeking help reported they developed a nicotine addiction after smoking poppers, a combination of tobacco and cannabis. The student’s motivation to seek the Wellness Centre’s help came after they developed a persistent cough according to Kriese.
Youths who want to use the Wellness Centre’s services do not have to be students at Sullivan. With teacher permission, any student in the district can access to the centre and its resources, including nicotine cessation products and other forms of care.
“We can ask them what else they need in terms of support,” Kriese said. “If they want to have a cessation group, that is something we can co-ordinate for the kids who are interested in it.”
For more information, the district is offering community presentations for parents and students about the risks and misconceptions about vaping in the coming weeks. The presentations will be Feb. 5 at A.L Fortune Secondary and Feb. 12 at the District Education Support Centre.