Researchers from Western University, Canada and the University of Nottingham, UK, are leading a new $100,000 study into teenage vaping in Canada, where high schoolers will be appointed as co-researchers to the project.
The study will take a revolutionary ‘by-youth-for-youth’ approach to understanding teenagers’ motivations for, and experiences with vaping, by involving teens in the project, which will culminate in developing the concept for a youth-informed education campaign.
Increasing evidence of harms associated with vaping has led the Government of Canada to identify youth vaping as a major public health concern. Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as part of the Health Effects of Vaping funding opportunity, Dr Stephanie Coen at the University of Nottingham and Dr Jason Gilliland at Western University, will co-lead a multidisciplinary team of co-investigators and community partners to generate much-needed evidence on teenage vaping to ensure that research and educational resources resonate with them.
Vaping during the pandemic
The researchers hope to understand how factors such as gender, race, socio-economic circumstances and place – as well as physical distancing as a result of COVID-19 – shape teenagers’ engagement with vaping. Experts will gain unique insights into the roles of school, home, online, and retail environments in influencing vape use in teens, before, during the pandemic, and as we emerge from it.
To encourage candid discussions about vaping, researchers will hold online focus groups where teenagers can use avatars and pseudonym screen names to participate, as well as in-person friendship group interviews when face-to-face contact resumes.
Using this evidence, the researchers will work with teen collaborators to develop a creative communications campaign, such as a short film or comic strip, to deliver the study’s findings to teenagers.
The project builds on Dr Coen’s previous work in Canada, where she and Dr Gilliland worked with teens to set up a Youth Advisory Council for Gilliland’s Human Environments Analysis Laboratory. Over the past two years, the Council has developed a position statement on vaping and has directly shared their perspectives and expertise with city council members, school boards, public health units, and the Ontario Minister of Health. Dr Coen and Dr Gilliland will appoint six teenagers to the project who will be trained in research methods, and data collection and analysis. The Youth Advisory Council will oversee the entirety of the project.
Dr Gilliland, Professor of Geography, Health Sciences, Paediatrics, and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Western University, noted that “prevalence of vape use among Canadian youth has doubled in the past couple years, with nearly 1 in 12 secondary school students now vaping daily or almost daily. Creative solutions are urgently needed to produce the kind of evidence required to help combat what is rapidly becoming a public health crisis in Canada and many other nations.”
There is currently little to no research that engages youth perspectives; and we have very limited knowledge about young people’s first hand experiences with vaping – how they come to vape, why they vape, and the social contexts surrounding their vaping.
Dr Coen continued: “The history of failed tobacco cessation and substance use campaigns targeted at teenagers has taught us that effective health promotion begins with evidence that centres young people’s experiences in meaningful ways.”