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Vaping no gateway to smoking, UVic report says

Glen Schaefer, Postmedia Network

Dan Cummer was a smoker for most of his 42 years, until a friend introduced him to vaping four years ago.

“Within a couple of weeks, I just wasn’t smoking,” said Cummer, who goes by the nickname “Maniac Dan” in his professional life as a T-shirt designer.

Vaping involves using a device with a battery-powered electric coil to heat any of a number of liquids, allowing the users to inhale the vapours. The flavoured liquids come in various concentrations of nicotine, and in nicotine-free varieties. Cummer was at downtown Vancouver's Cityvaper Thursday, picking up a $22 vial of a mid-level nicotine concentrate.

“Every couple of months it’s a little lower,” Cummer said. “It’ll be nice to eventually not have the (nicotine) habit.”

According to a report issued Thursday by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research, early fears that vaping would act as a “gateway” for young people to become smokers have proven to be unfounded. More typical is a movement in the other direction, with people like Cummer using the practice to wean themselves off smoking.

“There’s no evidence that they have a gateway effect,” said Marjorie MacDonald, a professor of nursing and public health at UVic and a co-author of the report. “Vapour devices can be at least as effective as other means of helping people quit smoking.”

Her report surveyed the research done so far on vaping, and found that tobacco use by youth has been declining while use of vapour devices has been increasing, she said.

“We did make some recommendations that devices do need to be regulated,” MacDonald said, adding that other countries set standards and Health Canada should follow suit. “We want to make sure that only the safest devices are legally available, and a big problem is that the liquids aren’t regulated or controlled.”

The B.C. government introduced regulations under the Tobacco Control Act in 2015 to prohibit shops from selling the devices and liquids to those under 19.

MacDonald was also involved in a Canada-wide survey of post-secondary students, in which 5.7 per cent of those surveyed said they had used a vapour device in the previous 30 days at least once, and 6.2 per cent had used cigarettes in the same period.

As to vaping health risks, MacDonald noted that nicotine itself is not a carcinogen.

Vapour devices do not release tar, and vapour emissions contain 18 of the 79 toxins found in cigarette smoke, MacDonald said. As well, second-hand exposure to those vapours is more transient than second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke.