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HALIFAX, N.S. — When it comes to vaping, there’s a lot we still don’t know, admits Mohammed Al-Hamdani.
That’s why caution is being urged, especially for young people, in using e-cigarettes or vape pens.
Teens can be vulnerable to the “cool” factor these devices bring, said Al-Hamdani, director of health initiatives with the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.
But for one teen who was vaping outside Charles P. Allen high school, it’s a way to relax.
“Because with school it’s a lot of stress,” said Noah, a 16-year-old student at CPA. He didn’t want his last name published because he is underage.
“If you’re just feeling really overwhelmed, it can kind of help you cool off. It just takes the stress away for a bit.”
E-cigarettes contain a liquid, usually propylene glycol, as well as a quantity of nicotine. A battery heats up the liquid and it is dispersed as an aerosol. They may contain flavouring agents, also an issue in attracting youth, said Al-Hamdani, who has a PhD in psychology and some training in addictions.
The unknowns surrounding the products and their long-term effects call for a “precautionary approach.” Al-Hamdani said strict laws and regulations are warranted.
“It can be available, but it shouldn’t be commercialized so that people don’t start using this too much and then 10 years from now we end up identifying those harms. So put some strict parameters to it and 10 years from now if, really, there are no tangible harms from e-cigarettes then we can rethink our policies and maybe decide that it might be a good option to make them (not as strict), especially if these products prove, in the long term, to be effective in helping smokers quit,” he said.
The fact products on the market are relatively new means there is little knowledge of the general long-term health risks, Al-Hamdani said.
There have been some concerns raised about a condition called “popcorn lung,” an inflammation damaging the smallest airways. But even with that, Al-Hamdani said there simply isn’t enough definitive evidence from randomized, controlled trials.
“Most of the effects that you see right now are things like discomfort, nausea, things that don’t quite materialize into serious, long-term harms. I think time will tell, and we just need to wait for some more studies to be able to identify those harms,” he said.
All in moderation
Noah says he knows about the nicotine content of vape juices and he’s not worried about health effects.
“For me, I’m not an avid user. I do it occasionally and I do it in moderation, so I’m not too concerned about that. I know that if you do it every day and you’re constantly using it, then that could be an issue. But for me, I try and, like, moderate it, and control it.”
Noah said he uses it roughly once every other day. His friend, Joseph, who also didn’t want his last name used, said he is a rare user as well.
“If he wants to, I just come out with him because obviously you don’t want to be alone,” Joseph said.
Noah said he doesn’t feel like he’s becoming addicted and maintains he would never turn to regular cigarettes.
“I’ve had family who have been addicted to it and I see what it can do to people, so I would never do cigarettes.”
Noah said his parents know that he occasionally vapes.
“They are relatively supportive of it as long as I don’t do any other actual drugs like pot. I will never do that. This is the only thing I actually do.”