Are flavors the leading cause of youth vaping?
As we know, the Canadian government has proposed a federal ban on all flavored nicotine products, leaving only the option of mint, menthol and tobacco.
This proposition has come to light due to the surge in youth vaping over recent years, with many sources claiming this rise has come about due to the desirable flavors attracting Canadian youth to start vaping.
In this time of opposition, we ask ourselves: Are flavors really what is bringing our youth to try e-cigarettes? Research is showing that this might not be the case.
A recent survey conducted by the CDC find flavors are not all to blame for the rise of teen vaping.
This survey published in 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing the results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found that teens are not simply attracted to vaping because of the flavors alone. (1)
When asked what initially attracted them to vaping, a majority of young adults answered that it was simple curiosity that led them to picking up the habit (55.3%) followed by their use of vaping products stemming from seeing their friends &/or family using them (30.8%) with only 22.4% percent answering that the familiar sweet flavors such as mint, candy & fruit are what allured them to try vaping. This answer was nearly equal to the amount of youth who started vaping to do tricks, at 21.2%.
The NYTS has been researching the patterns of youth tobacco use since 1999, with the results of this survey being published during a time when the greater public’s perception of vaping & e-cigarettes was at an all-time low.
In the summer of 2019 E-Cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) left thousands hospitalized and left more than 50 people dead, followed closely by a significant rise in the youth vaping crisis. Leading some public health experts to classify the high rate of youth vaping as an “epidemic” in the same manor as the opioid epidemic. An extraordinary leap from the reality our youth currently face today, with about 14% of youth aged 15-19 reporting having vaped in the past 30 days in 2020. (2)
However, this was later discovered to be directly linked to vaping products containing THC and vitamin E acetate, with most being purchased through unreliable sources such as friends, family, dealers, and online markets. According to New York’s health officials, vitamin E acetate was found in all cannabis samples that were examined from all patients that fell ill during that time. Vitamin E acetate is derived from foods such as almonds, olive oil and canola oil, normally used as a nutritional supplement most common in topical skin treatment and the manufacture of soap. When ingested as a supplement or applied on the skin, it is normally harmless, though it tends to become toxic once inhaled due to change in its molecular structure. Vitamin E acetate, as well as many other harmful chemicals, has since been regulated out of the vaping industry here in Canada and in the USA. (3)
With such pandemonium amongst health officials, worried parents and the general public, these studies showcasing that the issue does not lie solely in flavors have since been overlooked. Leaving many to believe that flavors are in fact the issue.
While there is no doubt that the rate of young adults picking up vaping has risen over recent years, we must take into account that the use of nicotine products overall has dramatically reduced over the past 20 years, with studies showing 36.4% of high school students in 1997 reporting cigarette usage over a 30-day period, and our current stats showing the rate is as little as 22.5% in 2019. (4) (5)
As we know today, vaping can be successfully used as a harm-reduction tool over smoking traditional cigarettes with a 95% overall harm reduction rate to the user’s health. E-Cigarettes have become the most popular method used for quitting smoking in the UK and there is currently substantial support from the UK Medical board for vaping as a harm reduction tool. (6)
In 2019 San Francisco, California passed a bill banning all flavored nicotine products from the market, similar to what we are looking at here in Canada. The Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) conducted a study on the repercussions of the flavor ban. The findings of this study found that after the ban’s implementation the odds of high school students’ smoking traditional cigarettes doubled in San Francisco’s school districts relative to trends in districts without the ban, even when adjusting for individual demographics and other tobacco policies. “These findings suggest a need for caution,” said Abigail Friedman, the study’s author and an assistant professor of health policy at YSPH. “While neither smoking cigarettes nor vaping nicotine are safe per se, the bulk of current evidence indicates substantially greater harms from smoking, which is responsible for nearly one in five adult deaths annually. Even if it is well-intentioned, a law that increases youth smoking could pose a threat to public health. Think about youth preferences: some kids who vape choose e-cigarettes over combustible tobacco products because of the flavors,” she said. “For these individuals as well as would-be vapers with similar preferences, banning flavors may remove their primary motivation for choosing vaping over smoking, pushing some of them back toward conventional cigarettes.” (7)
Overall, the youth vaping crisis should not be placed only on the flavors that are available, there are many factors that come into play when we look at why the youth are attracted to vaping in the first place. Teenagers are naturally intrigued by substances like drugs and alcohol, due to their instant gratification and mind-altering properties. Nearly every teenager will suffer from some sort of low confidence, peer pressure, anxiety and depression, or simple curiosity of the unknown. Our best recourse is to educate our children on the different substances and situations they will come across and lead them to make the right decisions when the moment comes.
Removing flavors is not only a risk to public health regarding adults who could return to traditional cigarettes, but a risk to our children who will have little to no other option if they choose to use nicotine products.