Health advocates seek stricter controls as youth and young adult nicotine use surges
Recent surges in youth and young adult experimentation with vaping threaten to hook a whole new generation on nicotine, and no surprise given how perilously easy tobacco and vaping products are to obtain, say BC health advocates the Lung Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Canadian Cancer Society, partners in the Clean Air Coalition of BC (CACBC).
According to the latest U.S. National Youth Tobacco Survey, the number of youth who say they’ve used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days was 78 percent higher in 2018 than in 2017. And while vaping products were only recently made legal in Canada, and numbers scarcer, youth usage trends are believed similar.
“There is a growing fear the proliferation of alternative nicotine-delivery devices threatens to turn back the clock on the progress made in the fight against tobacco,” said Jack Boomer, Director of the Clean Air Coalition of BC.
“This is even more alarming given recent evidence suggests kids who vape are four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes too,” he continued.
"Combustible cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death in Canada. And, while e-cigarettes or another vaping product may provide an effective harm reduction strategy for adults wanting to quit smoking, we cannot allow the unintended consequence to be that vaping becomes a gateway to nicotine addiction for younger Canadians,” said Boomer.
“If BC is serious about reducing smoking amongst youth and young adults, it is imperative we make it harder and less convenient to purchase smoking and vaping products. It is great that tobacco taxes were increased in BC last year, but we also need to make products less easily accessible. Increasing their cost and having stricter retail controls are proven strategies used to tackle product use,” he added.
Research has long demonstrated ease of in-store access to tobacco products as an important predictor of youth and young adult smoking. It stands to reason the greater the number of retailers, the greater the accessibility to products and marketing that influence tobacco use initiation and progression among young people.
“As it is today, buying tobacco and vaping nicotine-delivery devices is as easy as going to the corner grocery store, pharmacy or gas station– many of which are open 24 hours a day. We know there’s still as many as 4,400 retail outlets where tobacco products are sold across the province,” said Boomer.
While federal legislation prohibits sale of both tobacco and vaping to minors, and restricts certain forms of advertising, other than that, retail controls are minimal.
In B.C. obtaining approval to sell tobacco products remains a simple process, requiring completion of a one-page authorization form for each tobacco retail authorization where products are sold, including vending machines. No fee is charged and no cap exists on the number of tobacco retail authorizations permitted in the province.
To sell vaping products, which contain nicotine but are free of tobacco, no provincial authorization process exists documenting, at a minimum, where, and how many, retailers exist at any given time.
In contrast, retail sales of cannabis and alcohol are highly regulated and involve detailed approval processes and fees. To become a retailer of cannabis requires an initial $7500 application and assessment fee, yet-to-be-determined security check fees, and an annual $1500 retail licence maintenance fee. And while there is currently no cap on cannabis retailers allowed, local governments have authority to either prohibit or restrict numbers and locations of cannabis stores within their jurisdiction.
Likewise, the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated, so much so the province has established a moratorium on granting any new liquor licenses until 2022.
Given the proven association between ease-of-access to tobacco and vaping product and smoking initiation, CACBC partners encourage the provincial government consider measures to reduce density of both tobacco and vaping product retailers as a way to address youth and young adult smoking and vaping. Such measures could include:
- Requiring that retailers of tobacco and vaping products pay an application fee and annual renewal fee
- Establishing a moratorium on new tobacco and vaping product retail authorizations, or a declining cap.
- Prohibiting sales near schools and youth-oriented facilities.
- Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in stores containing a pharmacy.
About the Clean Air Coalition
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (B.C. & Yukon), BC Lung Association and Canadian Cancer Society (BC and Yukon) are committed to reducing tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke in B.C.
As partners in the Clean Air Coalition of BC, our goal is to build a greater understanding of the health hazards of second-hand smoke, generate support for smoke-free environments, and support tobacco and vaping product-control related activities at both the local and provincial levels.