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Several health advocacy groups are calling on the Nova Scotia government to take urgent action to curb what they call a “youth vaping epidemic.”

Kelly Cull, of the Canadian Cancer Society, told the legislature’s health committee Tuesday that a recent Canadian study found that youth vaping had skyrocketed by 74 per cent nationally in just one year.

“Five years ago, most high school teens didn’t even know what an e-cigarette was,” Cull said. “We need to turn back the clock.”

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Cull said that because of the high levels of nicotine in many products, increased e-cigarette use threatens progress that has been made in reducing smoking rates. She placed the blame for the increased usage on the tobacco industry and governments that haven’t done enough to recognize the trend.

“Aggressive marketing, youth enticing flavours, innovative design and highly addictive levels of nicotine on the part of the industry, combine that with lack of sufficient oversight and regulation on behalf of successive governments,” she said.

Cull said Nova Scotia needs “a strategy that puts everything on the table and addresses every aspect of tobacco and vaping.”

Measures sought by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and others include restricting e-cigarette flavours, banning sales except in adult-only specialty shops, banning internet sales and raising the minimum age for tobacco and e-cigarette use to 21 from 19.

Last month, Premier Stephen McNeil said his government is looking at regulations that could ban flavoured vaping products.

McNeil made the comment after the Opposition Tories introduced legislation calling for a ban on e-liquids and a tightening of restrictions to outlaw possession of tobacco products by people under the age of 19.

He said a series of potential regulatory changes were being considered including a requirement for licences to sell vaping products, similar to those required to sell tobacco.

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Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, has also said provincial regulations were being examined to see if protections for youth could be beefed up.

Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to introduce regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19, taking that step in 2015. It also placed restrictions on in-store advertising for tobacco in 1993 and 2006.

However, Strang said online sales still pose a challenge, and he is concerned by reports that teens are able to purchase from vape stores.

A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet found that the prevalence of vaping among 16- to 19-year-olds had increased in Canada and the U.S. between 2017 and 2018, as did smoking in Canada.

Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, a coalition of non-profit groups, released its own provincial survey last week. It received responses from 369 youth aged 16 to 18 and 301 young adults aged 19 to 24.

The survey found that on average youth aged 16 to 18 who vape use three disposable cartridges containing vape juice per week and spend $24.30 per week on the habit.

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Ninety per cent of that age group who vape use nicotine-based vape juice with the majority of those – 66.5 per cent – opting for the 50 milligrams per millilitre or higher concentrations of nicotine.

The survey also found that 20 per cent of youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 who reported having used tobacco did so after vaping.

Dr. Mohammed Alhamdani, the group’s executive director, told the committee the findings are a concern at a time when health dangers related to vaping have emerged in the U.S. He said there have been close to 40 deaths and 2,000 hospitalizations related to vaping.

“That’s telling us that vaping is far from being benign,” Alhamdani said.

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