‘Monkey see, monkey do’

My Vancouver-raised kids are protected from the sights and smells of smoking by the strength of BC’s tobacco regulations. Because of this, they are confused and somewhat assertive, when they see smoking. Their response is both heart-warming and occasionally embarrassing. “That man shouldn’t be doing that,” says my ten year old. “I’m going to go tell him…”

Fifty years of awareness-raising, programs and regulation has brought about this “de-normalization” of tobacco.  BC’s low smoking rates are the result. With the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes this desirable “de-normalization” may be in jeopardy.

The expression, ‘monkey see, monkey do’ is often used to describe latent peer pressure and if e-cigarettes are not properly regulated we predict that more children and youth will be ‘doing’ e-cigarettes. The statistics support this assumption – the number of youth who have tried e-cigarettes is increasing at a rapid rate (see WHO backgrounder  and American Heart Association Journal for more details).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily stop with e-cigarettes. An American study quoted in today’s Globe and Mail found that “Youths who had tried e-cigarettes were nearly twice as likely to say they would try a conventional cigarette in the next year compared with those who had never tried an e-cigarette, according to the study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.”

This is cause for concern as is the lack of transparency about what chemicals are in the vapour. Both the World Health Organization(WHO) and American Health Association (AHA) say that it’s more than the ‘water vapour’ alleged by many marketers.

The precautionary principle tells us that until we know more – for instance, what chemicals are used, the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, and the effect on children exposed to an increasing barrage of e-cigarette marketing; we should treat e-cigarettes in the same light as tobacco products.

The precautionary principle is the basis for BCAHL’s e-cigarette policy position, as well as new reports and calls for action from the WHO and AHA, both of which are calling for action on e-cigarette regulation – both for use and marketing.

I want my kids to continue thinking it’s astounding that someone would willingly inhale toxic chemicals into their lungs. Let’s ensure e-cigarettes are treated according to the precautionary principle and that public health trumps private profit. The WHO wants bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to minors – so do we.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Programs & Policy
August 2014

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