Central Alberta school board trustees are sounding the alarm about the huge problem of youth vaping.
The eight boards with the Alberta School Boards Association’s zone 4 passed a motion that “urges the federal and provincial governments to align restrictions on the consumption, promotion, marketing and sale of vaping products with those on tobacco products.”
The motion for stronger vaping regulations will go to the association’s annual November meeting, where Alberta’s 61 school boards will vote on it.
Red Deer Public Schools originally put forward the motion. Board chair Bev Manning said vaping is the most prevalent challenge and has outpaced tobacco, cannabis and alcohol use.
“It’s become quite apparent to us that vaping is becoming a real issue in our schools amongst students,” Manning said.
She said teachers and administrators are saying students in class are vaping, which can be vapourless, and that the popularity of the pastime came on fast.
“All of a sudden, it just seemed to really take hold and become a larger problem than I think anybody realized was coming. It just seems like kids everywhere are doing it.”
She said the laws have not kept up, and central Alberta school boards are taking the motion forward to the provincial association to see if they can lobby for laws that are abreast of the trend.
“This is really our first attempt at making it a provincial conversation. We have to be responsible in trying to keep all of our students safe and healthy. It’s part of our job.”
Local school boards say the use of vaping products now ranks as the No. 1 reason for student suspensions in some jurisdictions.
In the past, tobacco users represented a “fringe” group of students. Educators now see a variety of students in all grades vaping, including athletes, artists and academic-focused students.
“After years of real progress in creating a smoke-free generation, we are slipping back with the real risk of significant numbers of youth being addicted to nicotine and becoming smokers,” said Connie Huelsman, the association’s zone 4 chair.
“We just want to raise the awareness.”
Les Hagen, executive director with Action on Smoking and Health, said Alberta’s former NDP government was dragging its feet on vaping rules.
“Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces that don’t have any legislation to regulate vaping or vaping products,” Hagen said.
“Now we’ve got an epidemic of youth vaping. We’re hoping (the United Conservative Party) government is a little more responsive.”
He said in a CBC survey about taxing e-cigarettes in March, the UCP said it would rely on the advice of health professionals and the chief medical officer of health to address under-age use of nicotine products.
It so happens, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, had already recognized the impact of vaping on youth smoking rates in a statement to the Western Canadian Tobacco Reduction Forum.
Hagen said a new poll shows the majority of Canadians support urgent action by the federal government to restrict vaping product advertising to help curb increasing youth consumption.
He said Red Deer was the first municipality in Canada to address vaping in public places.
“Everyone else has to catch up to Red Deer, including the federal and provincial governments.”