A group of concerned parents is putting pressure on a Scarborough high school and the Toronto District School Board to stop students from vaping in the school's bathroom.
The group has sent a letter to principal Leslie Ann Klinger of Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute asking her for "proposed solutions as soon as possible." Copied on the letter was the superintendent of the TDSB, as well as the city councillor and the MPP for Scarborough-Rouge Park where the school is located.
"Many of our sons and daughters have told us that use of the washrooms is intimidating, and that they will choose to go offsite when necessary," the letter reads.
"Preventative measures coupled with strict enforcement of these policies is critical."
The letter suggests effective smoke detectors would crack down on bathroom vaping.
But one of the parents, Chris Haslett, knows the problem doesn't start and end at Mowat.
"My brother is in Ottawa and his son is experiencing it in high school. We have friends who are experiencing it here in Toronto ... It's also happening in Burlington," said Haslett.
Haslett says the idea for the letter came about when the daughter of a fellow Mowat parent said she had made several complaints to the school but felt like nothing was being done about it.
"The congregation of groups of people in these washrooms is making it intimidating for kids at an age where they're already scared about going to the washroom in front of other people," Haslett told CBC Toronto.
A Sept. 21 response from Mowat principal Leslie Ann Klinger says the school is responding with a number of measures mostly focused on bathroom checks and student messaging, such as leadership group announcements and poster campaigns about the health effects of vaping.
Vaping banned on school property, TDSB says
A representative from the TDSB also says vaping is not permitted anywhere on school property and can result in suspensions.
But Haslett says he feels more needs to be done.
"We used to smoke on planes, libraries, Shoppers Drug Mart. We don't anymore. Education is one reason, laws are another and sensitive smoke detectors like those on planes are some of the ways this has been combatted," Haslett wrote in a Facebook post.
Klinger said in her response the school cannot install non-board cameras or smoke detectors.
"I think they're doing what they can with what little resources they have," Haslett said.
He says the parents want more action from higher levels, which is why they sent the letter to the next levels of government.
CBC Toronto reached out to Coun. Jennifer McKelvie and MPP Vijay Thanigasalam, who both represent Scarborough-Rouge Park, but did not receive a response from either.
E-cigarettes containing nicotine have been legal in Canada since the passage of Bill S-5 in May, 2018.
David Hammond, a professor of public health at the University of Waterloo, says vaping is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes, but that doesn't mean it's a healthy alternative.
"Let's be clear — vaping will be harmful for young people," said Hammond, who specializes in chronic disease prevention with a focus on the use of tobacco and vaping products.
However, even with youth smoking at an all-time low, he says, there has been a large increase in the number of teens who vape.
"We have about one per cent of high school students who smoke cigarettes," said Hammond.
"There's about 15 per cent that vape."
Jessica Mudry, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University who specializes in health communication and health policy, says the problem is the messaging around vaping.
"Vaping is said to be the acceptable, both socially and politically, option to the consumption of nicotine."
She says the recent ubiquity of vape products and the assumption that vaping is a healthier option has made people think it's okay.
"It's at every school," Mudry said. "That's just where people go to vape — the bathroom."
Nevertheless, Mudry says despite vaping's prevalence among teens, it is still not allowed in any public place and schools should treat it the same as cigarette smoking.
"We've stopped smoking in public places for a reason and we should make sure vaping is afforded that same sort of constriction."
Kids 'holding it in all day'
Hammond also suggests several things could be done to make it harder for teens to get their hands on vape products.
"Sales of all e-cigarettes [and tobacco products] could be restricted to adult-only stores, as is the case for cannabis products," he said.
He also suggests governments might consider restricting some of the flavours, such as candy, that are aimed at young people.
Meanwhile, Haslett hopes something can be done immediately so students don't have to go off-site to use the bathroom.
"I know some people whose kids are holding it in all day."