Cancer society wants Nova Scotia to raise smoking, vaping age to 21

20 June 2019
Nicole Munro

The Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the Nova Scotia government to raise the legal age for buying tobacco and vaping products from 19 to 21.

The plea comes after a study published by the British Medical Journal Thursday found vaping among 16-19 year olds increased 74 per cent — from 8.4 per cent to 14.6 per cent — from 2017 to 2018.

Kelly Cull, spokeswoman for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Atlantic region, called the results of the study “disturbing.”

“We’ve seen pretty consistently over the last decade a drop in youth smoking rates, so to see the pendulum swing the other way is obviously of great concern,” Cull said in an interview.

The study, led by University of Waterloo professor David Hammond, found vaping and smoking measures increased in Canada, but only smoking increased in England and vaping increased in the United States.

“I think it’s been some time since we’ve seen such an explosion in terms of a nicotine product category onto the market,” Cull said.

“What we’re seeing now is an increase in vaping use and a corresponding increase in tobacco use and that’s the focus of our concern today.”

Cull said Maritimers, especially in high school settings, have seen a visible increase in young people using e-cigarette products, even though long-term health affects are still unclear.

“The scientific evidence is not on par with the pace we’re seeing in terms of use and it will probably be awhile, but early studies suggest there is risk and there’s risk related to lung damage,” she said.

The society is urging the government to up the legal smoking and vaping age to 21, similar to what many cities have done in the United States, said Cull.

“Increasing the minimum age to 21 really removes a legal purchaser from the high school setting,” Cull said, noting most young people vaping get it from a friend.

“It’s not very often you see someone aged 21 in a high school environment, but it’s more common that you see someone that’s 19.”

“I’ve been working in tobacco control for a while and I really have yet to meet someone who has used tobacco their whole life that wants to see their children or grandchildren follow that pattern as well.”

            – Catherine Cull, spokeswoman, Canadian Cancer Society Atlantic

The U.S. Institute of Medicine found smoking rates among 15-17 year olds could be reduced by 25 per cent over a period of time with a 21 age limit, Cull said.

“This policy also has the impact of delaying smoking initiation which then makes quit attempts more successful and makes hopefully less life-long smokers,” she said.

And it’s not just the Canadian Cancer Society who is for raising the legal age for buying tobacco and vaping products.

A 2018 national Ipsos survey showed 76 per cent of Atlantic Canadians supported the motion.

“I’ve been working in tobacco control for a while and I really have yet to meet someone who has used tobacco their whole life that wants to see their children or grandchildren follow that pattern as well,” Cull said.

In its conclusion, the study said finding a balance in providing smokers with reasonable access to effective products while restricting products that appeal to young people is a priority for tobacco control and public health.

“Given how rapidly the vaping market is evolving, it is critically important to continue monitoring vaping behaviour,” the study said.

Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon from March 7, 2019. - Bruce MacKinnon
Bruce MacKinnon’s editorial cartoon from March 7, 2019. – Bruce MacKinnon

Provincial Health Minister Randy Delorey told reporters Thursday he hasn’t seen the study, but is committed to “help curve smoking and tobacco use in the province.”

“Nova Scotia has been a leader in many respects, having my predecessor Mr. Glavine brought in significant changes to regulate and to bring vaping and e-cigarette products under the Smoking-free Places Act,” Delorey said, noting they’ve made at least two provisions to the act.

Delorey said he does “recognize the impact of smoking and handling vaped products,” and will continue to monitor smoking and public health concerns.

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