P.E.I. Lung Association says social media is the next frontier in vaping battle

·3 min read

As Canada prepares to enact new regulations restricting the promotion of vaping products this week, the P.E.I. Lung Association is turning its focus to social media influencers and their impact on teenagers. The new rules, which take effect Friday, will prohibit vaping advertisements in public spaces — including online or other media channels — if the ads can be seen or heard by youth. "I think it will control some of the Facebook or TikTok type advertising that is happening that many parents are unaware of right now," said Julia Hartley, co-ordinator with the P.E.I. Lung Association. But Hartley said the regulations will likely not prevent social media influencers — people with large numbers of followers on social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok — from posting organic videos of vaping. "[Influencers] have a huge influence on youth. Now they're almost considered celebrities," said Hartley. "It's a lot harder for the regulations to catch that."

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

Jakob Terry, 16, follows several social media influencers online. "I think eventually they end up influencing us," he said. "I think people are just kinda trying to look to fit in or look to see what's cool."

Terry, walking along Queen Street in Charlottetown with his mother, said the draw of the online personalities is music. He said even if someone were to post a video that included vaping, he doesn't believe that would persuade him to try it.

Don't be like your friends, just be yourself. You don't have to vape if you don't want to - Alden Kennedy

Beth Terry said that while she's not too worried about her own children, she understands where the concern comes from. "Obviously kids are going to get involved with things or be influenced by things that you may not agree with," she said. "We made it a rule in our house that there were no computers or anything in their bedrooms." "We've also had big discussions about how they can use their iPods or their phones."

'The thing to do'

According to the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey in 2018-2019, 39.3 per cent of Island teens in grades 10 to12 have used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. Alden Kennedy, 19, said he started vaping in high school because of peer pressure from his friends. And even after nearly vomiting following his first experience, Kennedy continued with the habit for a year and a half. "My friends were doing it, it was just the thing to do," he said. "I stopped because I wanted to get better at running and live a more healthy lifestyle."

But for other teens considering giving it a try, Kennedy had one message. "Don't be like your friends, just be yourself. You don't have to vape if you don't want to."

'An epidemic'

When it comes to the rules around vape advertising on Prince Edward Island, Hartley said, "we're definitely ahead of the game." Earlier this year, the province increased the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 and past promotional regulations were "comparable to the advertising that is allowed for cigarettes," said Hartley. But there is still more work to be done.

Natalia Goodwin/CBC
Natalia Goodwin/CBC

On top of educating the public about social media influencers, the P.E.I. Lung Association is continuing to advocate for an end to flavoured vape juice - something Nova Scotia did recently. "Vaping has quickly become an epidemic with Island youth," said Hartley. "We've been a leader in tobacco control and I really hope we can continue in being leaders and following suit with some of the regulations." A spokesperson for the P.E.I. government said in an email that they expect to have an update regarding the end to flavoured vape juice on the Island later this summer.

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