He admits he’s had a scattered beer, but nothing more than most 17-year-olds.
Last year, on his 16th birthday, he tried weed, but wasn’t over the moon about it.
And he’s quick to point out he’s never smoked cigarettes in his life — at least not the kind with the harsh-smelling tobacco.
Instead, Joey (not his real name) smells like a mixture of strawberries and kiwi — his favourite electronic cigarette flavour.
The St. John’s teen first took up vaping a few years ago — having convinced his buddy’s older brother to buy him a battery-powered device at a local vapourizer shop. Now, the teen vapes every chance he gets.
“If you’re not doing it, you’re looked at like there’s something wrong with you,” he said, adding groups often hang out at nearby areas, where vaping is the usual pastime. “Seriously, everybody is doing it.”
The rising numbers of teens vaping is causing many people to be alarmed.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for Control of Tobacco (ACT), 37 per cent of kids in this province between Grades 7 and 12 vape.
“It’s an epidemic,” said ACT president Kevin Coady. “It’s a real crisis.”
The vapour in e-cigarettes can contain various levels of nicotine and is often in a wide variety of flavours, from fruity, bubble gum and chocolate chip to menthol and tobacco.
“There’s absolutely no reason for kids to be vaping.” — Kevin Coady
It’s been widely published that e-cigarettes don’t contain as many toxins and carcinogens as tobacco cigarettes and it’s well known that vaping can be beneficial in aiding tobacco cigarette smokers efforts to quit.
However, parents worry that these devices are getting in the hands of teens, who might not be aware of potential risks.
“They say it’s better than smoking. There’s a shred of truth to that, but we’re finding those who are vaping are becoming smokers. If they’re vaping, a lot of time they’re inhaling nicotine, which is highly addictive. That’s the thing that keeps everybody smoking,” said Coady, who pointed out the vape flavours entice youngsters.
“There’s absolutely no reason for kids to be vaping.”
Even without nicotine in the devices, there’s concern that e-cigarettes still contain toxins in the variety of vaping juices, many of which include food flavouring that can create other health hazards.
“It’s a common misconception that vaping is safe,” Coady said. “There are real consequences. Vaping can do damage to the lungs with all the inhaling. People think there’s nothing wrong with using them. We’ve heard of parents giving these devices to their kids as birthday gifts. The public needs to know the risks.”
Coady added that traditional cigarette companies own large parts of the vape and e-cigarette market and are doing all they can to capture young smokers.
In recent months, Health Canada vamped up its efforts to warn of the possible dangers of vaping, launching a campaign to tackle what it sees as an increasing problem among youth. Its website lists the concerns, including addiction to nicotine, damage to lungs and the yet-to-be-determined long-term health effects.
It has also tightened laws restricting advertising of vaping products, as well as health warnings on packaging of nicotine e-cigarettes.
But Coady says Health Canada was too slow off the mark issuing such regulations.
“Health Canada didn’t jump all over it right away. They allowed advertising and allowed these devices to be on counters, on display in stores,” Coady said. “Now, they’re trying to haul it all back, just like they did with cigarettes.”
Vapour stores across the province have been subject to strict federal rules under the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, as well as provincial regulations under a similar-named act, to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of vaping products sold here.
Tristan Wall, who co-owns Avalon Vapor on Topsail Road with John Downey, is strongly against kids vaping, and noted his store has strong rules against selling to anyone under 19. However, he doesn’t agree that vaping is an epidemic among teens.
“I think the word choice, in my opinion, is very strong and wrong. ... Vaping has contributed to zero deaths since its inception. … The word epidemic is blown out of proportion,” said Wall, who added that kids smoking nicotine is nothing new.
“The use uptake has increased, but I think a lot of that has to do with the media negatively portraying it to kids. When you tell the kids, ‘Please don’t do this,’ you’re only attracting them to the product.”
He said their store’s goal is to offer a less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking for people looking to quit.
“We get people from all walks of life looking to get off (tobacco) cigarettes and manage their health,” said Wall, who opened the store with John Downey in May 2015 after vaping helped both of them quit smoking. “Studies have shown it is much safer than smoking and it’s very effective.”
Brenda Moore is proof of that.
The 50-year-old St. John’s woman smoked for more than three decades and tried many times to quit. None were successful until she tried vaping.
“Vaping was just what I needed to quit. I found the inhaling and exhaling better helped me adjust,” said Moore, who started vaping with a high level of nicotine, reducing it gradually. “The trick is to look at vaping as a tool, with the knowledge that you’ll need to set a quit date.
“I haven’t smoked since Jan. 2, 2018, and haven’t vaped since Sept. 2, 2018. It really worked for me.
“I just wish I hadn’t started (smoking) in the first place.”