C-K smoking, vaping above provincial average

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Vaping in Chatham-Kent among students is double the provincial average.

Chatham-Kent Public Health officials are concerned the smoking rates here are higher than the provincial average.

And it’s killing people.

Jeff Moco, youth engagement co-ordinator for CK Public Health, said the most recent statistics indicate the rate of tobacco smoking in the province for people aged 15-plus is nine per cent. Here in Chatham-Kent it’s at 13 per cent.

Moco, in his report to the board of health, said smoking is estimated to be responsible for the death of 220 Chatham-Kent residents a year. Of those deaths, 92 are cancer-related, 63 are respiratory, 62 are cardiovascular and two are diabetic-related.

“For the first time that I can really remember, Ontario Public Health has put a number on the burden smoking has put on our society,” he said.

What’s more, tobacco smoking, Moco said, is responsible for 766 hospitalizations a year, and 1,723 emergency department visits annually in Chatham-Kent.

“These smoking-attributable outcomes make up 19.4 per cent of all deaths, 9.4 per cent of all hospitalizations, and 4.4 per cent of all emergency department visits in Chatham-Kent,” he stated in his report to the board of health recently.

As for vaping, Moco said provincial figures from the Ontario Student Drug and Health Survey indicate that in 2021, 15 per cent of students had vaped in the past year.

Local figures, with the most recent available from 2019, are much higher.

Moco said statistics from the Lambton-Kent District School Board show that 32 per cent of high school aged students vaped at least once a month.

With that figure, and the fact the highest adult age group for smoking locally is the 20-44 category at 23.2 per cent, the primary targets for smoking cessation efforts are teens and young adults.

“This is a burden we all experience. This is preventable. It is our mission to help make a difference in this area. This is unsustainable,” he said. “We need to really, really focus on prevention; preventing a new generation of addiction to nicotine.”

Dan Drouillard, a public health nurse, said the support for people looking to quit smoking has historically been quite fragmented in C-K.

“The only tools we’ve basically had are some online programs, mail-out models, and they are quite limited in their success and what they can provide.”

Drouillard said CK Public Health has partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to use CAMH’s STOP program.

“This allows anyone without a family doctor in Chatham-Kent to get 26 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy, as well as individualized counselling,” he said. “We’re working on bringing this not only to Chatham, but to some of the outlying communities.”

Due to the addictive nature of nicotine, Public Health officials aren’t expecting a 100-per-cent success rate. Far from it.

“We want people to quit smoking, but our goal is to increase quit attempts on people aged 20-45. That will have the most impact,” Drouillard said. “People sometimes need to have multiple attempts to be successful. So getting people to try to quit is the most successful means.”

Moco said it is difficult to grasp why the municipality has smoking and vaping rates above the provincial average.

“In the past, people made a link between lower educational achievement and socio-economic status having a relationship with tobacco use,” he said, alluding to the fact smoking rates were higher among the less educated and lower income groups in society. “Vaping is more of a cultural phenomenon.”

Vaping does differ from tobacco use, and some turn to it to escape cigarette smoking. But Moco said it’s not as safe as users may think.

“It’s not water vapour. The latest research is about 800 puffs per month on regular nicotine device has people reporting about the same number of respiratory issues as people who smoke 15 cigarettes a day,” he said. “Right now, I’m dealing with people who do 800 puffs a week.

“Young people kind of underestimate the addictive properties of these devices.”

However, the federal government has issued information that vaping is safer than smoking tobacco in some ways.

“Vaping products produce only a small fraction of the 7,000-plus chemicals found in tobacco smoke, as well as lower levels of the potentially harmful ones. Unlike cigarettes, vaping products do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, among many other chemicals,” the Government of Canada website stated.

Furthermore, nicotine by itself does not appear to be a carcinogen.

“While there are risks associated with nicotine, such as addiction and/or physical dependence, nicotine itself is not known to cause cancer. In contrast, cigarette smoke contains many disease-causing chemicals, including many that cause cancer, as well as heart and lung diseases,” the federal website stated.

It did acknowledge the addictive nature of nicotine, however.

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