New vaping restrictions aim to lower youth vaping rates

·12 min read

by Spencer Kemp

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

New vaping regulations introduced by the Government of Saskatchewan are targeting youth vaping rates in hopes to lower the number of youth using vapour products.

The first regulation was an amendment made to the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act that was put into effect February 2020.

The amendment will restrict the sale of flavoured vapour products to adult-only vape shops and limit marketing and availability to youth effective on September 1, 2021. The restriction will not apply to mint and menthol flavours.

The second restriction is a new 20 per cent Vapour Products Tax (VPT) that will come into effect on September 1, 2021. The VPT will replace the current PST of six per cent when it comes into effect.

Saskatchewan currently carries the highest youth smoking rates and highest youth vaping rates, making these new restrictions well received by many in the province.

A study done in 2019 showed 30 per cent of Saskatchewan youth reported vaping in the last 30 days. Among Saskatchewan students in Grades 7-9, 18 per cent reported past-30-day use, and 40 per cent of youth in grades 10-12 reported past-30-day use.

SECPSD sees new restrictions as a step in the right direction

The sudden spike in vaping popularity over the past years has been something that schools across Saskatchewan have had to deal with and adopt rules for.

Director of Education with the South East Cornerstone Public School Division (SECPSD) Lynn Little says SECPSD has been able to adapt to these new products and prevent youth from using them in schools.

“We certainly keep a wary eye on vaping, there’s no doubt about that, just like we do with tobacco products too. I would suggest that this has been a greater issue in the past than we are currently experiencing in schools. It doesn’t seem to be as prevalent today as even a year ago. We don’t know if that’s because it’s not new and cool anymore, or because the risks associated are becoming better known and the students are becoming more educated, or the fact that maybe with COVID restrictions it’s just been more difficult to use than it has been in the past,” Little explained.

“In any event, we have had fewer exposures this year than we have had in the past.”

Little explains that SECPSD follows guidelines put in place by the Government of Saskatchewan and treats vapour products the same way they treat tobacco on school grounds.

“We have the same policy for vapour products as we do with tobacco use. It’s not permitted in the building nor on the school ground. The staff has been working to establish this understanding with our youth and with the public.

“Because tobacco was an issue well before vaping, we can just make reference to the same policy, so we treat them like the same thing.”

Little says that the new restrictions are a step in the right direction by the Government of Saskatchewan, noting that she has noticed a decrease in the number of students using vapour products in schools.

“With all of our efforts in combination, we would suggest that we are seeing a reduction in kids vaping in school. But to pinpoint exactly what has had the greatest impact is difficult, so we stay the course with all the regulations. These additional restrictions will be advantageous, they will be one more step along the way to eliminating the usage of vape products.

“I think these are steps in the right direction. Any steps that might reduce the youth and the attraction to these risk-related health practices are welcome. A reduction plan with many different prongs is advantageous. What makes a difference for one student or a group of students might not impact another. Maybe it is the cost for some, and maybe for others, it’s the lack of flavour that turns them away.

“I think coming from a lot of different angles is wise.”

Little says that she agrees with the view of flavoured vapour products being targeted towards youth.

“We do associate flavours and names, like cotton candy, to being driven towards youth as are things like bubble gum. Advertising is meant to entice people and flavours like those, like ice cream or bubble gum, would be chosen to target youth and give the impression that they are harmless.

“I’m glad there is a recognition of this and I am glad there are now regulations in place to limit it and protect our youth.”

Little hopes to continue seeing a downward trend of vaping in schools. She says that as more information is made available, more schools are able to educate youth on the impacts of vapour products.

“This does provide a little bit more awareness and understanding as to why we are doing this and some backing for this. Another thing we are doing is including awareness and education in our studies, developing an understanding of the risks for youth. I’m not sure if when vaping first came out if it was known or understood what the risks were. As things become more scientifically known we can incorporate that into our studies and ensure there is education around that, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Ministry of Finance hope to discourage non-smokers from using vapour products

With the introduction of a 20 per cent tax on all vapour liquids, products, and devices taking effect later in the year, the Ministry of Finance is hoping to discourage youth from purchasing vapour products.

Brian Miller, Manager of Public Relations with the Ministry of Finance says the intent of the tax is to also limit the number of non-smokers that choose to use vapour products.

“Right now the provincial sales tax applies to vapour products and effective September 1 there’s going to be a new 20 per cent vapour products tax that will apply on the sale of all vapour liquids, products, and devices,” said Miller

“The purpose of the tax, the VPT, is aimed at preventing youth and non-smokers from getting vapour products and encouraging current smokers to move to slightly less harmful alternatives.”

Miller explained that the Ministry of Finance acknowledges that vapour products are used by individuals that are trying to ease off of tobacco.

“It has a general overall goal of recognizing that with vapour products, it would be a good thing to discourage youth and non-smokers from using those products. But there is a recognition that vaping might be slightly less harmful than tobacco. We do acknowledge that vapour products are bought by some to be a smoking cessation method by some and that most people view them as slightly less harmful than traditional tobacco.”

He notes that the 20 per cent taxation, which will be used as general revenue, was chosen to match other provinces in Canada.

“Twenty per cent taxation was chosen because it largely brings us in line with a number of other Canadian jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions that have a 20 per cent tax on vapour products in Canada include BC, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.”

With the increase in taxes to vapour products, Miller says the Government of Saskatchewan is anticipating making over triple what was made with the PST.

“It’s difficult to measure the vapour products market. There are many types of retailers that sell vapour products in Saskatchewan, but right now we estimate that the current PST of 6 per cent which is currently collected on these products comes to around $1,000,000 annually in revenue. When we switch over to the VPT on September 1, the government expects to collect about $3.3 million annually in revenue from the VPT,” Miller explained.

While there is no licensing fee, vapour product vendors will be required to apply for a VPT vendors licence in August before the VPT comes into effect.

“All vendors of vapour products will be required to become licenses by August of this year and they’ll be asked to apply for a VPT vendors license and that will allow them to then report and submit any VPT that they collect.

“Businesses that need to apply for a VPT vendors license will be able to do so starting August 1. They have the month of August to get their application submitted and reviewed. They will also need to file VPT returns for the reporting period that begins on September 1, which is the date when the tax kicks in.”

While this tax may impact the sales made by vapour stores, Miller explains that it was more important to the Ministry of Finance to lower the number of youth using vapour products.

“The overriding consideration was to bring Saskatchewan in line with the tax rate being charged by other Canadian provinces. The main motivation for this was preventing youth and non-smokers from getting these vapour products and at the same time keeping the tax structure as such so that traditional cigarette smokers would still have the option to switch to what is considered a slightly less harmful alternative.”

Lung Association of Saskatchewan urges government to do more

When announcing the amendments and added restrictions, Health Minister Paul Merriman made note of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan and their efforts in raising awareness and pushing for these changes.

The Lung Association has advocated for restrictions on vapour products since 2013 and has slowly but surely made progress in added restrictions.

Jennifer May, Vice President of Health Promotion and Government Relations with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, says that over the past years, the number of youth using vapour products has gone up, which she says is a reason to increase restrictions.

She says that the government has made the right efforts, but the Lung Association is calling for more.

“Vaping has skyrocketed amongst youth and certainly in the last five years here in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has one of the highest vape and smoking rates for young adults. We were certainly urging the government to support stronger regulations by banning all vape flavours with the exception of tobacco for this exact reason. As we know, flavours absolutely target youth and young adults. Other Canadian provinces have done this like Nova Scotia and PEI, and they’ve done this with success,” May explained.

“Our message to the government is that the best way to protect our kids from flavoured products is to remove them from the market. This was what we’d consider a partial ban, but youth and young adults still have access to menthol flavours at convenience stores, at grocery stores. And the other flavours have been moved to vape specialty shops.”

She notes that limiting marketing and availability to youth has been a big step in helping prevent youth from using vapour products, noting that a majority of vape users are youth and young adults.

“We agree 100 per cent that vape products target youth. There’s no question. Eighty-four per cent of vape users are under the age of 25. A lot of people think this is an adult issue, but that’s not the case. Most vape users are under the age of 25 which absolutely makes this a youth and young-adult issue. That is why the Lung Association is on top of this.

“The industry is trying to sell us on the idea that this is a product for adults to quit smoking. That’s how it entered the market with such gusto. This is not an adult harm reduction strategy like the vape industry is trying to sell us, this is a youth issue.”

While long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, May says that short-term research has shown negative effects from vaping.

“We’re still learning more about vaping and its long-term health effects and how that will impact the body and that’s all being researched. Short-term research is clear, and this is why Health Canada has made a statement that they do not recommend youth to vape. We do see effects such as mouth and throat irritation, shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Any time a product like that makes you cough, we need to understand that the lungs are meant for clean air, they’re not meant for chemicals or oils or any of those foreign substances. Any time you start putting those substances into your lungs, we’re going to see damage.”

May notes that advocating for the restriction of flavoured vapour products came from both the Lung Association of Saskatchewan as well as Youth4Change, a group of students advocating for healthy choices.

May explained that Youth4Change played a large role in the passing of Bill 182 which saw vapour products treated like tobacco products in terms of use and purchase.

She says that Youth4Change and the Lung Association worked together to push for the restriction of flavoured vapour products, and while the Government of Saskatchewan introduced some restrictions, she believes more restrictions are necessary.

“There were two outstanding issues that the Lung Association and Youth4Change were asking for. One was age. To buy cannabis or alcohol in Saskatchewan you have to be 19 but to buy tobacco or vaping you only have to be 18. We have been wondering why the discrepancy. We would like the age to be higher but of course, we have to be realistic and figured we’d meet in the middle at 19,” May explained.

“Most kids are out of school by the age of 19. There are a lot of kids who are 18 that are in high school, so raising the age helps that system and keep vapour products out of schools.

“The second issue is we want a full ban on flavours. We know who they target and there’s no question about it. There’s no need for them to be here. There are other provinces and many states that have already banned them and we can do the same here.”

Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator