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Young vapers like high-nicotine, flavoured juices, Nova Scotia survey finds

An online survey of Nova Scotians aged 16 to 24 found those who vape prefer high nicotine concentrations and flavours in their e-juice. - File
An online survey of Nova Scotians aged 16 to 24 found those who vape prefer high nicotine concentrations and flavours in their e-juice. - File

More than half of young people who vape prefer the highest concentration of nicotine in their e-juice, a Smoke-Free Nova Scotia survey has found. 

Among 16- to 18-year-olds who vape nicotine-based juice, 66.5 per cent use pods with nicotine concentrations of at least 50 milligrams per millilitre. On average that would be equal to the nicotine content of one cigarette pack. (Most respondents vaped about three pods a week).

“That’s very concerning because those are the highest concentrations of nicotine available on the market,” said  Mohammed Al-Hamdani, the executive director of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia and director of health initiatives for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. 

“It tells us . . . we have a huge addiction problem here, especially when you think about this age group, the 16 to 18 age group.”

It’s illegal for people under 19 to buy vaping products in Nova Scotia but the survey found that 33 per cent of young buyers were able to get products from retail outlets. 

That result was surprising given how easy it is for underage buyers to get vaping products online, Al-Hamdani said. 

“It’s easy to lie (online) about your age and say you’re 19 …  so that’s why we thought we’d see that as the No. 1 access point.

“But what we found was less than 10 per cent of those who are 16 to 18 access them that way. In fact it’s the physical retail location such as convenience stores and vape shops that are the top access points. That’s unacceptable.”

“We need a comprehensive suite of policies to reduce the vaping epidemic amongst youth."

 Mohammed Al-Hamdani, executive director of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia

The online survey of Nova Scotians aged 16 to 24 was conducted in the fall after a series of pilot surveys that honed the questions for accuracy and comprehension.

After being advertised on Facebook and Instagram, the survey drew responses from 670 Nova Scotians who vape: 369 aged 16 to 18 and 301 aged 19 to 24.

The survey found that 90 per cent of vapers aged 16 to 18 use nicotine-based vape juice, and over 95 per cent prefer flavoured juice. Vaping juice is available in flavoured and non-flavoured varieties, as well as those with nicotine and without nicotine. 

Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, whose members include the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, will present their findings to the Nova Scotia legislature’s standing committee on health on Tuesday. 

“We need a comprehensive suite of policies to reduce the vaping epidemic amongst youth,” Al-Hamdani said. “That can be done with flavour bans, capping legal nicotine concentrations at the lower level, increasing the minimum age to 21, tightening up enforcement when it comes to retail locations and reducing the density of shops especially around schools, and taxation.”

The last recommendation relates to the comparatively low cost of nicotine-vaping compared to tobacco. Three pods a week would cost about $24, about half the price of a comparable amount of tobacco-derived nicotine. 

“So that’s a good deal for the amount of nicotine you get,” Al-Hamdani said. “If you increase taxes, youth are going to be impacted and they’re not going to vape as much.”

The Lung Association of Nova Scotia has reported that nearly 37 per cent of students from Grades 7 through 12 have tried an e-cigarette at least once, which is 61 per cent higher than the same rate among all Canadian students within that age range.

The opposition Progressive Conservatives have called on the Nova Scotia government to ban all flavoured vaping products and make it illegal for people under 19 to possess any tobacco products. The Liberals say they're looking into regulatory changes

Concerns about the adverse health effects of vaping have been rising in recent months. 

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