Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus are raising the alarm about the increase of vaping among teenagers and how e-cigarette marketing strategies target youth.
Assistant Professor Laura Struik, who teaches in UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing, recently published a paper examining why teens take up vaping and whether advertising capitalizes on those reasons.
Struik conducted the study with Assistant Professor Sarah Dow-Fleisner, who conducts research in the UBCO School of Social Work on development trajectories and resilient functioning of children and families in high-risk contexts.
The researchers say there are a variety of reasons teens take up vaping—ranging anywhere from managing stress, curiosity, taste, peer pressure, easy access, and even factors like it’s easy to hide from parents and is perceived to be less harmful than cigarettes.
“Almost all of the ads that we looked at tapped into those reasons,” Struik explained. “On average, each ad tapped into four of the sixteen reasons for uptake amoung youth. The fact that these things are presented indicates that these advertisers are purposely and successfully marketing to youth.”
In addition to their findings, Struik says the Northern and Interior regions also see the highest rates of youth vaping.
Struik suggests several reasons for this.
“Possibly due to the fact that there are more rural communities versus urban communities. One common reason for higher rates of substance use in general in rural areas, is related to a disparities in health education and services,” she explained.
Struik says they are planning to break it down further.
Recent polls found that 95 percent of teens said they were curious about vaping so they wanted to try it, while 81 percent tried an e-cigarette because a friend vaped, and 80 percent reported continued e-cigarette use because they enjoyed the good flavours.
More than 70 percent of the teens agreed e-cigarettes were “cool and fun.”
“Youth don’t make the decision to vape because they don’t understand the risks or don’t care about the risks,” she says.
“Young people are taking up vaping for a variety of reasons and e-cigarette companies are leveraging those diverse reasons to recruit teens into using their products. And it’s working.”
A noteworthy finding is that vaping advertisements do promote e-cigarettes as a way to enhance your social life, says Struik.
“This is particularly concerning because teens are at a developmental stage when establishing a social identity is of utmost importance to them,” she says, suggesting bringing youth to the table to help with intervention ideas.