York researchers find e-cigarette use significantly associated with drug, alcohol use in youth

The use of e-cigarettes in Canadian youth is significantly associated with marijuana use and alcohol use, and its association with illicit drug use approaches significance, a study out of York University finds.

Researchers in the Faculty of Health used results from the 2017 cycle of the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey – conducted by Statistics Canada in collaboration with Health Canada – to study the factors associated with e-cigarette use in youth and young adults in Canada. The survey was conducted across Canada’s 10 provinces to understand behaviours related to smoking, alcohol and drug use among Canadians.

Hala Tamim
Vrati Mehra

The study, “The association between alcohol, marijuana, illegal drug use and current use of E-cigarette among youth and young adults in Canada: results from Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey 2017,” is published in BMC Public Health. The lead author is Vrati Mehra, an MSc candidate in the Faculty of Health, who worked with York Professor Hala Tamim to conduct the research study. York psychology Professor Yvonne Bohr also participated in the project.

With the sudden rise in popularity of using e-cigarettes – or “vaping” – and their adaptability to be used to smoke a variety of substances, researchers sought to understand their use among Canadian youth and young adults.

“Given that among all age groups, Canadian youth and young adults have the highest prevalence of e-cigarette use, the objective of this study was to assess the factors associated with e-cigarette use among this population, and to specifically examine the association between alcohol, marijuana and illicit drug use,” said Mehra.

The study found that:

  • 6.2 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, while 23.9 per cent reported having tried e-cigarettes;
  • 23.1 per cent of the past 30-day users reported using e-cigarettes every day, and 72.5 per cent of the past 30-day users reported having nicotine in their last e-cigarette;
  • youth aged 15 to 17 were 4.95 times more likely to be e-cigarette users as compared to those aged 22 to 24; and
  • e-cigarette use was significantly associated with marijuana use and alcohol use, and its relationship to illicit drug use approached significance.

The researchers also report that 71 per cent of those who have vaped accessed e-cigarettes through friends or relatives, and that one of the top reasons for vaping was enjoyment of the different flavours available.

“Our study is one of the first Canadian studies to show the concomitant use of e-cigarettes and substances such as alcohol, marijuana and illicit drugs,” said Mehra. “Having said that, further research is needed to understand what substances are being smoked via e-cigarettes by Canadian youth.”

The timing of the study is relevant in light of an increase of deaths reported by media to be linked to e-cigarette use.

Mehra also notes that the Canadian federal government’s Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, introduced in 2018, which has placed restrictions on the use of marketing tactics such as the use of interesting flavours and shapes, should prove beneficial in coming years.

“The act should be helpful in mitigating the increase in e-cigarette use among youth,” said Mehra. “Constant monitoring of sale and use of e-cigarettes and awareness campaigns targeted towards the youth should be prioritized.”

Mehra has won many awards for her academic work and is currently a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canada Graduate Scholar (2019-20). She is also the recipient of the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2018-19) and the LaMarsh Graduate Research Award, and is a president’s ambassador at York University.

The project was funded by the LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research through its Graduate Research Award.