HALIFAX -- A sharp uptick in the number of teens who smoke e-cigarettes has happened so quickly there are few policies in place to deal with it.

For the last 18 months, Atlantic Canada’s Public Policy Director for the Canadian Cancer Society, Kelly Cull, has focused on getting the legal smoking age in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick increased from 19 to 21, something P.E.I. legislated last November.

Cull has been lobbying the provincial governments for close to five years on the issue of vaping.

"E-cigarette use in Canada has jumped by 74 per cent between 2017 and 2018,” she said.

“We’re at a point now where four in 10 Nova Scotia high school students are trying e-cigarettes. One in four is using them very regularly.”

The rates are even higher in New Brunswick, where 41 per cent of high school students have tried e-cigarettes and 27 per cent have used them in the last 30 days. 

“Older teens are the most established and frequent users while children in the younger grades tend to be more experimental,” Cull said.

“The interesting thing though with age 21 is that it’s pretty well supported by the industry. We’ve already seen good evidence that 21 is a really, really effective policy to get those products out of the hands particularly of high school students.”

The legal age for purchasing cigarettes and vaping products in the United States is now also 21.

“It’s all about creating distance between the legal purchaser and the consumer,” Cull said. “It’s taking the legal purchaser out of that social circle…the high school environment.”

She said that’s where kids become hooked on these products and that translates into a life-long addiction.

Nova Scotia’s most recent budget introduced new taxes on vaping liquids and products, effective Sept. 15.

The government will also ban sales of flavoured e-cigarettes and vaping juices as of April 1, making Nova Scotia the first province in the country to do so.

“In the case of other provinces like New Brunswick, they’re sort of at ground zero with this…so with that province in particular there’s a level of urgency there to start the ball rolling,” Cull said. “So every day we wait, there’s a new cohort of young people who are experimenting, who are going to need to wean off this addiction at a later date.”

Cull wants the federal government to step up and regulate vaping products.

“If we had the same legislation from coast to coast that we could regulate e-cigarettes -- things like nicotine content, taxation -- a lot of these things would be best done at the federal level, especially for the Atlantic provinces because we have so many provinces so close together.”

Cull’s worst fear is that if nothing is changed, the number of teens vaping will continue to grow.

“To see this level of addiction continue to grow in our high schools is very concerning. It feels like we’re experiencing a tobacco 2.0 here,” Cull said.

Useful links to help your teen quit smoking: