Rise of the vape: What led to the popularity of the e-cigarette in Canada?
A woman exhales a puff of vapor from a Juul pen in Vancouver, Wash., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
TORONTO -- E-cigarettes and vapes without nicotine have been widely available in Canada since 2004, but the enactment of the 2018 Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) and enticing flavoured products catapulted the product into new heights on the market.
Vaping is considered a less harmful delivery method of nicotine than smoke because of the absence of extra chemicals and toxins prevalent in traditional cigarettes, however there have been hundreds of cases of vaping-related lung injuries and illnesses in the U.S.
E-cigarettes were first introduced to the market in 2004, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, but their popularity has exploded in recent years with the enactment of the TVPA, marking an increase in teen vape users.
The TVPA became law on May 23, 2018 which allowed adults to legally purchase vape products that contained nicotine. The TVPA replaced the Tobacco Act, which governed how tobacco products were sold, labelled, produced and grown, according to Health Canada.
While vapes and e-cigarette devices have been touted as a way to wean people off traditional cigarette smoking habits, in recent years the technology behind the devices has evolved significantly. That accounts for their meteoric rise in popularity and use, according to one researcher.
David Hammond, a public health professor at the University of Waterloo, has done extensive research on vaping for almost 20 years, with a special interest in youth vaping.
Hammond said in an interview with CTVNews.ca that although vapes with nicotine were legally sold after the 2018 TVPA, his research showed they were widely available regardless of the regulation.
“One of the reasons they [the government] legalized it [nicotine products], was there was an acknowledgement that these products are here to stay,” Hammond said. “It was awkward at best for the government to say ‘oh this product should be banned’ but let the product that kills one out of every two or three long term users to be sold in every corner store.”
Hammond said the TVPA was a “recognition that these products may help some adult smokers transition away from smoking,” but the “ultimate impact” is on how the product is regulated.
Referencing the flood of products that are marketed and appeal to young users through the use of “candy” flavours and sleek design, Hammond said, “in hindsight, realizing that when they [the government] opened the door to these products, they probably opened a few more doors or opened a door a little more widely than they should have.”
Hammond said the popularity rise of vaping can be encapsulated in the story of vape company Juul which debuted “a lovely modern looking product” that was “fresh,” came with “brilliant flavours” and was “marketed with a very effective social media campaign.
“But you don’t get to be the dominant player in this billion dollar marker just with those things,” Hammond said. “What Juul did more than anything else is they unlocked how to deliver very high levels of nicotine concentration in a way that easier and smoother to inhale.”
Juul changed the chemistry involved in vaping by using “nicotine salts,” Hammond said, which deliver high levels of nicotine without the harshness traditionally associated with other high-level products.
“That was the turning point,” Hammond said, adding that the emergence of Juul on the market coincided with the implementation of the vaping act.
“Just at the point where you’re opening stores and putting ads up, all of a sudden the products that you’re advertising and selling are doing a much better job delivering nicotine …that’s when we started to see kids not just trying them but using them more regularly,” Hammond said.
The wide array of flavoured products that directly appeal to teens and youth are a major factor in the uptick in vape use among that population, as “it normalizes the product and we know certain flavours like the candy ones are more popular with kids than adults,” Hammond said.
For Hammond, the way forward is a regulatory balance that limits certain flavours and high nicotine vape products to adult retail access only to make it harder for teens and youth to get ahold of them.
“That involves changing advertising, changing flavours and changing some retail access,” he said. “We need to clean up this market if it’s going to play a role in a therapeutic process [like assisting adult smokers quitting traditional cigarettes.]”
The dire stories coming out of the United States about illnesses related to vaping need to be viewed with a wider scope Hammond said, as “more than 80 per cent of the cases are from vaping THC or cannabis product…and probably due to toxicants or contaminated products.”
“It’s all about what is in your product,” Hammond said.
Cannabis vapes are among the new cannabis products set to become regulated and legal on Oct. 17, and available for sale in Canada at the earliest in mid-December.