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Column originally published Dec 31, 2019

Vaping Nicotine And THC Can Be Very Harmful

Question: Our son is in grade 9. Last night, he told us that he has been vaping nicotine and THC for several months. He showed us this tiny gadget that he uses; we have no clue at all. When he was young, he had severe asthma. In the last few years, he is much better with the help of our doctor. We have always told him that he should never smoke; we never thought that he would get into vaping instead. He said that he was pressured by his friends; they either smoke or vape, or both. He started with vaping flavoured juices, and now into heavy duty vaping. He heard that some teenagers have gotten very sick, and he is scared. That is why he told us. We all cried, he is such a good kid; the peer pressure is huge. Please tell us what we can do.


I am sorry to hear that your son got into vaping, and you didn’t know. Vaping has become such a problem in our society. I am not sure how we can get it under control, how long will it take, and how many young lives we will lose along the way.

Both of my parents were heavy smokers. My mom said that she was forced to smoke cigarettes by her relatives when she was a teenager. People at that time didn’t know that smoking can harm the lungs. My mom died of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also called emphysema); she suffered for many years before she died. Many others died from lung cancer. I can attribute my poor lung capacity to inhaling second- and third-hand smoke from both of my parents, until I left home for university.

It has taken us several decades to reduce smoking in Canada. We have to fight big tobacco companies; we have outlawed indoor smoking in public places, on transit, and on planes. We have limited tobacco advertising and put tobacco products behind counter, and fined retailers that sell tobacco to underage youths. More recently, we have made cigarette packaging less attractive to youths. Smoking rate has declined steadily, although there are still youths and young adults who start smoking in spite of all efforts.

Vaping has sneaked up on us, and we fell asleep at the wheel. At first, it seemed like a good idea. Instead of inhaling thousands of harmful chemicals, vaping reduced them to a few. There were claims that it was easier to quit smoking by changing to vaping.

Those who invented vaping may truly have noble intentions. However, what followed is quite the opposite. Investors who care only about money seized upon this opportunity, creating flavoured vaping solutions that attract young people. It appears to be fun, inhaling something that tastes good from a cool gadget, and breathes out smoke. No wonder young people want to try. Before long, other chemicals like nicotine and THC (an ingredient of marijuana) are too attractive. It is actually easier to get hooked on high nicotine vapes than cigarettes.

Tobacco companies saw the opportunity, and have bought into the market. Once they get kids hooked onto vaping, they become life-long customers. Anyone who smokes knows how hard it is to quit.

I am glad that your son has learned from you, at an early age, that he should not smoke. His lungs will be damaged by cigarette smoke much faster than those without asthma. However, vaping is not safe; there have been many deaths linked to vaping. One teenager required lung transplantation to save his life. We still don’t know what lead to these illnesses; there may be more than one culprit.

Your best approach is to keep talking to him, be supportive. Peer pressure is difficult to resist. Look for a sympathetic addiction counsellor in your community. Work with him to reduce vaping over time. Get him involved in activities that he enjoys; stay in close contact with him, as much as he would allow. It will be a long and bumpy journey.