Healthy Living in the North

Vaping: Not as harmless as you might think

A drawing of a youth vaping, with smoke around his head, says, "Vaping exposes you to harmful chemicals."

In 2018, 21% of all BC students reported that they vaped with nicotine.

This article is based on a presentation by Northern Health’s staff members: Lindsay Willoner, Regional Nursing Lead, Tobacco Reduction; Petrina Bryant, Regional Nursing Lead Healthy Schools and Youth; and Stacie Weich, Team Lead – Interprofessional Team 7. It originally appeared in Northern Health – Health and Wellness in the North, Summer 2019.

It’s true that with vaping, you’re not breathing in tar and other components of smoke the way you would with a cigarette, but research shows it’s still risky for your health: you’re inhaling particulate matter, nicotine, heavy metals such as lead, and other cancer-causing toxic chemicals.

“There’s metals found in vaping that are being inhaled into people’s lungs, and there’s nicotine, which puts people at risk of addiction,” says Lindsay Willoner, Northern Health’s Regional Nursing Lead, Tobacco Reduction. “Vaping has only been on the market in Canada for about a decade, so we don’t know the long-term effects on public health.”

What is vaping?

Lighting a traditional cigarette makes tobacco burn, releasing smoke that contains nicotine. The smoker breathes it in, delivering nicotine to their lungs.

With vaping, there’s no burning. Instead, the vaping device heats a liquid and converts it to a vapor that the user inhales. This vapour is often flavoured and can contain nicotine.

“Because it looks like it’s smokeless and might not give off any odour, people may think there’s really no harm with it,” says Willoner. “But really, the e-juice or vape may have addictive substances in it, so it doesn’t come without harm.”

Vaping can harm your health

Short-term effects of vaping include coughing, sneezing, increased heart rate, and worsening of asthma symptoms.

Long-term effects can include lung disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Also, children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing the e-juice or absorbing it through their skin.

There’s also “popcorn lung,” caused by the buttery flavouring found in some vaping products — it can cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious and irreversible lung disease.

Vaping is illegal for those under 19

With vaping on the rise among youth, there’s the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to nicotine. Cannabis can also be vaped with an undetectable smell.

Tobacco smoking rates continue to drop, with 6% of students reporting they were daily smokers in 2018 vs. 10% in 2008.

But in 2018, 21% of all BC students reported vaping with nicotine, and 19% without nicotine. However, as of 2018, vaping is illegal for those under the age of 19.

How to quit

The best thing you can do for your health is to quit vaping. For help, visit quitnow.ca or call 1-877-455-2233:

  • Get information and free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, or inhalers through the BC Smoking Cessation Program.
  • You can get these products through your pharmacy.

You might be able to get financial help to buy smoking cessation medications.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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A highly sophisticated, engineered, and deadly product

List of tobacco-related statistics.

Nicotine may not directly cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, or COPD, but it’s the nicotine addiction that keeps smokers craving and inhaling harmful smoke and chemicals.

No doubt, you’ve heard at some point in your life that smoking isn’t good for you. If you are a smoker, you’ve probably been told many times to quit. Chances are that if someone close to you smokes, you’ve been the one telling them to quit.

Despite the health risks linked to smoking, the overall smoking rate for B.C. is 11%. Smoking rates in northern B.C. are much higher, however, at 23.1%.

Have you ever wondered why?

In looking back on my 7 years of working in tobacco reduction, I am amazed at how many people underestimated how addictive nicotine is and how unaware smokers were regarding the harmful effects of smoking. Many people think that smoking is just a habit or a lifestyle choice. Some think that only more willpower is needed to quit smoking. However, the reality is that nicotine is a drug and smoking is a powerful addiction that makes it difficult to quit!

Nicotine follows the same reward pathways in the brain as heroin & cocaine. After the cigarette smoke is inhaled, the nicotine gets absorbed in the lungs within 7 seconds – yes, that quickly! Then it stimulates neuroreceptors and releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that makes you feel relaxed, helps with concentration and gives you a bit of a boost. Keep repeating this process, and nicotine addiction is born.

The cigarette is a highly sophisticated product and is engineered to be a very effective nicotine delivery system. However, nicotine addiction is only one of the risks that come with smoking. In the white cloud of cigarette smoke, over 7,000 chemicals are released when the tobacco is burned. These include tar, nail polish remover, candle wax, battery acid, and formaldehyde – to name just a few! These chemicals are toxic and poison your internal organs, especially your heart and lungs. Over 70 of these chemicals are linked to various cancers.

The reality is that nicotine does not cause cancer or heart disease or stroke or COPD. However, it is the nicotine addiction that keeps smokers craving and inhaling the tobacco smoke and all those chemicals. Nicotine is extremely potent and addictive and contributes to tobacco dependency. Just because the intake of nicotine is legal does not make it OK. Nicotine is impacting the health of Canadians by the thousands each year.

The statistics are staggering:

  • Tobacco use is the #1 cause of preventable death & illness in Canada.
  • Tobacco users have a 50% higher risk of heart attack.
  • The risk of suffering a stroke is 8 times greater for smokers.
  • Smoking is the #1 cause of lung cancer.
  • Approximately 37,000 people in Canada die each year from a smoking-related illness.

Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and it’s important to remember the process rarely happens in one step.

The good news is that there is help to quit if you are a tobacco user or would like to help a tobacco user quit.

Check out quitnow.ca for free counselling service and resources or dial 8-1-1 (HealthLink BC) to access the BC Stop Smoking Program for free nicotine replacement therapy.

Now that you know a bit more about how addictive nicotine truly is, what can you do to stop the addiction either for yourself or to support somebody with their smoke-free journey?

Doreen Bond

About Doreen Bond

A true Northerner, Doreen was born and raised in Prince Rupert and has lived in the north her whole life. She works in at the Public Health Unit in Prince Rupert as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator with Northern Health’s Population Health team. Doreen is passionate about tobacco reduction and has a strong interest in community development. Once contemplating a move to Vancouver Island, she chose to stay in Prince Rupert to raise her sons with everything the north has to offer. In her spare time, she loves sport fishing on the ocean, beachcombing on the white sandy beaches and hiking outdoors on the pristine mountain trails. When not at work, Doreen can be found at home, spending quality time with her family and friends and taking the odd bellydancing class.

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NH smoke-free grounds policy: Let’s do it right too!

At the end of 2012, Vancouver Coastal Health authority launched their fantastic new video to promote their tobacco reduction messages, using the music of Tom Lavin.

When I saw the video for the first time, I thought, we need a video like this for Northern Health! The music is great and everyone is involved.

Watch the Vancouver Coastal Health video:

Northern Health’s smoke-free grounds policy was developed to protect everyone from the harmful effects of second hand smoke. There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke and even the odour of smoke on clothing (third hand smoke) is harmful. It’s important for staff, physicians, patients and visitors to ensure that our facilities provide a safe environment for health and healing without tobacco smoke and the lingering toxic odour of smoke.

So what is it like for patients who normally smoke? The average smoker will start having cravings to smoke within 30-60 minutes of admission. They may develop a headache, restlessness, irritability, inability to concentrate and other discomforts of withdrawal.

When our patients who smoke are admitted to our facilities, it’s important to minimize the discomfort of their withdrawal symptoms. The Nicotine Withdrawal Protocol should be implemented on admission; patients are offered Nicotine Replacement Therapy products (NRT), such as patches, gum and/or inhalers to decrease their withdrawal symptoms. If cravings persist, the dose can be increased or the patch can be combined with the gum or inhaler. It’s like pain control and withdrawal should be treated like pain!

Patients who experience comfort without the constant need to smoke may even decide to quit, but for now they will feel better and heal faster. Being in an environment where no one is smoking also reduces the desire to smoke!

Tobacco kills half of all its users and many of the patients in our facilities are there because of tobacco-related illnesses. Let’s all work together to escape the harmful effects of tobacco and tobacco smoke.

What can staff do?

  • Ask all patients about tobacco and treatment for withdrawal – make it a standard of care.
  • Use the 5A’s approach: Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist and Arrange.
  • If you smoke, do not smoke on the hospital grounds. Remind your co-workers to smoke off NH property.
  • Ask yourself: Do my clothes smell like smoke? If they do, consider changing after breaks.
  • Consider using NRT or cessation medications while at work.
  • Think about quitting – you can do it!

What can patients do?

  • Ask for the nicotine patch, gum and or inhaler to help you feel more comfortable.
  • Refrain from smoking on the hospital grounds.
  • Think about quitting.
  • Phone Healthlink BC at 8-1-1 for free patches or gum.
  • Visit www.quitnow.ca.

If you like videos, Dr. Mike Evans from Toronto has a good one that might help you quit: “What is the single most important thing you can do to quit smoking?”

Enjoy and live tobacco free!

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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