MEDICINE HAT, AB – For years, going out for a smoke always involved a lighter and a cigarette, but that’s since changed with the increased popularity of vaping.
E-cigarettes are marketed as a safe way to kick the habit, but that’s meant a jump in minors wanting to try out the devices.
Blaine Rees runs Gas City Vapes on Maple Avenue and said he’s seen more and more teenagers try to enter the store and buy vaping devices underage.
“It is kind of discouraging because we do want to help people actually quit smoking, we don't want to give somebody a nicotine addiction,” said Rees.
According to the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, vaping rates among high school students in Alberta have jumped from 7.8 percent to 22.2 percent from 2015 to 2017.
Close to 10,000 students were surveyed, with the percentages representing roughly 27,000 high school students in Alberta vaping within a 30 day span.
Rees said they have put processes in place to make sure they aren’t selling their products to those under the age of 18.
“We ID here, we don't allow people under the age of 18 within our store or online, anything along those lines,” he said. “We make sure that people that are ordering online, that they show proof of ID through Canada Post.”
According to the Medicine Hat Public School Division, they’ve also seen an increase in the number of students vaping off school property.
Superintendent Mark Davidson said over the past six months the division has updated their student smoking policy to address areas such as vaping.
“We are absolute in that it's not permitted on school grounds and we focus pretty heavily, where it's appropriate, on prevention and cessation,” said Davidson.
Alberta is one of just two provinces in Canada to have no formal legislation that addresses or regulates vaping.
However, Alberta heath minister Sarah Hoffman said it’s something that is on their radar.
“This is definitely one of the items that my hard working public service is dedicated to addressing as we continue to move forward, and it is useful sometimes to be able to see where other provinces have gone so that we don't have to start from scratch,” said Hoffman.
Anti-smoking groups such as Action on Smoking & Health aren’t pleased though, as they said action needed to be taken years ago.
Executive director Les Hagen said he’s been frustrated with what he calls a lack of progress, but is hopeful something will materialize in the coming months.
“They've had three years to do something about vaping and they haven't done anything yet,” said Hagen. “But, there's no time like the present and better late then never, and we hope the health minister and the premier will acknowledge that this is a huge problem.”
“I think it's incumbent on any level of government to change their legislation in order to keep pace with the changes in our culture,” said Davidson. “So, certainly it makes sense.”
Even before the federal government came out with rules surrounding vaping in the spring, Rees had been carding customers and banning minors from Gas City Vapes for years.
While he doesn’t know if more legislation is the answer, he said he’s open to ideas that keep more of these devices away from the hands of teenagers.
“I'd be interested to see what else they could do to keep it out of their hands,” he said. “I would fully support it because I don't want to see underage people using a vaporizer, especially if they don't smoke either.”
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