British Columbia’s Health Minister is calling on the federal government to enact new regulations to prevent teenagers from vaping, after a recent study showed increases in both vaping and cigarette smoking among Canadian young people.

The study was published Thursday in the British Medical Journal, and it found the percentage of Canadians ages 16 to 19 who reported vaping in the last 30 days had increased six percentage points in one year (from 8.4% in 2017 to 14.6% in 2018).

Over the same period, the percentage of 16-19-year-olds who had smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days increased five percentage points (from 10.7% to 15.5%).

The study notes that "the increase in smoking among Canadian adolescents raises important questions about the association between vaping and smoking behaviour."

Smoking among Canadian teenagers had been declining steadily for decades before levelling off in 2015. The increase in smoking from 2017 to 2018 could be related to the increase in vaping, but the study notes that it didn’t see similar increases in teen smoking in the United States over the same period, despite a comparable rise in teen vaping south of the border.

The authors of the study, led by David Hammond of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, conclude that the addictive nature of vaping products with nicotine poses a danger to teens, even if it can’t be directly tied to increased rates of smoking.

"Though the impact of vaping products on smoking rates remains highly contentious," the authors write. "It is unfortunate that the characteristics that enhance the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aids -- namely, efficient nicotine delivery -- also increase their potential to promote addiction among young people."

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix called on the federal government to take action in response to the study:

  • restricting the concentration and delivery of nicotine;
  • restriction to the promotion and sale of flavoured vaping products;
  • restrictions on advertising of vaping products; and
  • measures aimed at reducing youth appeal of the vaping device itself.

Dix also endorsed six specific measures that had been proposed to the federal government in a recent consultation paper:

  • Requiring that online retailers post information advising prospective customers that the sale of vaping and tobacco products are restricted to persons of legal age;
  • Requiring two-step age verification for online retailing, like the age verification system in place in B.C. for online cannabis ordering;
  • Requiring that packages containing vaping or tobacco products bear a prescribed label that reads ‘Age verification required at delivery’;
  • Requiring a signature upon delivery and prohibiting packages from being left on doorsteps;
  • Restricting delivery to prescribed carriers; and
  • Restricting online retailing to retailers that utilize third-party age-verification services.

"B.C. also stands ready to introduce its own initiatives should federal action be delayed,” Dix said in a statement. "Obviously, it is our preference to work with other jurisdictions and the federal government on joint action."

The Canadian Cancer Society called on Canada’s federal and provincial governments to take legislative action, recommending that they increase the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21, prohibit the sale of flavoured vaping products outside of specialty shops, and restrict the advertising of vaping products.

"E-cigarettes are supposed to be for adult smokers who have been unable to quit," said Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst for the CCS, in a release. "But the results of this new study regarding youth trends are of tremendous concern. Given the progress that has been made to reduce youth smoking, we must avoid a new generation of teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping products."

The study used online surveys of 16-19-year-olds in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to determine rates of vaping and smoking in each of the three countries. Two studies were conducted in each country, one in August and September of 2017 and one in August and September of 2018.