Ask Us: Vaping and Making Connections to the Elementary H&PE Curriculum Webinar Blog |

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Ask Us: Vaping and Making Connections to the Elementary H&PE Curriculum Webinar Blog

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - 15:34

On March 9, 2021, Ophea hosted a webinar about vaping and its connections to the elementary Health & Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum. The purpose of the session was to provide educators with facts about vaping, have their questions answered, and learn about the importance of adopting a harm reduction approach when engaging in conversations about vaping with students.

We would like to thank the co-presenters:

  • Sarah Calvin is a bilingual knowledge broker with CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)
  • Andrea Haefele is a Health & Physical Education teacher in the York Region District School Board and currently seconded as a curriculum consultant at Ophea.
  • Joanne Walsh is a Sessional Instructor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University and a curriculum consultant for Ophea

View the full webinar on our YouTube channel.

During the session registration, educators included their questions about vaping, on how to engage in conversations with students, and on where to go for access to reliable strategies and resources available to address this topic. The webinar was divided into four themes based on the most frequently asked questions.

Theme 1: What is vaping and what are the risks and possible short-term and long-term effects?

Vaping is inhaling and exhaling an aerosol through a device called a vape. It doesn’t require burning like cigarettes; the device uses a battery to heat a liquid into a vapour that turns into aerosol. One myth about vaping is that it is a water-based vapour; the fact is that all vapes contain chemicals. 1

Most vape products are flavoured and can contain nicotine. The amount of nicotine in a vape can vary widely from a minimal amount to an amount greater than a cigarette. Nicotine toxicity can happen due to swallowing the vaping liquid or absorption through the skin or eyes of large amounts of nicotine which can have serious side effects. 2

Vaping is not without risk and can increase exposure to chemicals that may cause health harms, including lung damage. Short-term effects can include mouth or throat irritation, a cough, shortness of breath and nausea. Because vaping is still relatively new, researchers are still learning about its long-term health effects.3

Why do youth vape?

Research from Health Canada on why youth vape was shared. Some common responses included curiosity, the flavours are appealing, they are trying it to fit in, other social influences, and stress reduction; however, we must not necessarily assume that a student is vaping because of peer pressure or that there is some serious mental health problem that needs addressing. Vaping may be fulfilling a physical, social, mental or emotional need at that moment. 4

Educators are encouraged to consider why youth engage in different substance use behaviours more broadly and that there are many reasons, each one unique to the individual and specific to different situations. Educators should be open to all possibilities and have genuine conversations with students.

Theme 2: How prevalent is vaping by grade (7-12)? Where can I find up to date research on statistics and trends regarding vaping and young people?

Data was shared from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) conducted by CAMH, completed every two years since 1977. Thousands of students in grade 7 - 12 in over 200 schools were surveyed across Ontario. Vaping has been tracked since 2015, and is the only drug use measure that showed increased use between 2017 - 2019. Use had doubled during that time with 11% of students reporting they had vaped in 2017 compared to 23% in 2019. The percentage of students vaping cannabis had also doubled between 2015 and 2019.doubled. Rates of vaping increase significantly by grade: 2% of Grade 7 students reported vaping in the past year, compared to 5% of Grade 8s and 20% of Grade 9s. 5

Although the survey does not gather data from students below grade 7, educators can learn why it is important to talk about vaping in an elementary school setting. Effective teaching and learning also means taking the time to know our learners and our community. Educators might consider connecting with Public Health and community partners to access available local data and then use it with students to have conversations about vaping. Educators can pose questions such as: what does the data show, why is there an upward trend, is this reflective of our students and the community, what might our students need to know more about or talk about to make healthy, informed decisions considering their own context?

Theme 3: What does harm reduction mean? Why is harm reduction a good approach?

Harm reduction is a philosophy grounded in respecting the rights of people who use drugs. It involves practical strategies for people who choose to use drugs to reduce the harm that may occur through drug use. It also encompasses a number of principles that educators can adopt in their approach to teaching the H&PE. Adopting a harm reduction approach includes recognizing that as much as educators focus on prevention efforts, students will still engage in drug use. Ignoring this fact creates stigma and does not provide the right support for safe use. Harm reduction focuses on safety and well-being as a priority with abstinence being a potential goal, but not the only acceptable option. It includes non-judgement, compassion and dignity to avoid marginalizing people who choose to use drugs, and respects their rights to quality services. Central to this approach is empowering individuals to make choices for their own health. 6

Adopting a harm reduction approach provides educators with a pathway to approaching the topic of substance use with sensitivity, and supporting students in developing their health literacy. Empowering students with information and social emotional learning skills enables them to identify and manage their emotions, develop healthy coping strategies, and use their critical thinking skills to make informed decisions and choices relative to their individual situation and their own health.

Theme 4: When should we be talking about vaping with students and where does vaping fit into Healthy Living? What are some strategies I can use with my students?

Engaging in conversations about vaping in the junior grades helps students identify habits and behaviours that can be detrimental to their health, and develop the social-emotional learning skills needed to make healthy informed choices about substance use before they may become engaged in these behaviours. In Grade 4, students learn about the effects of substances on health, factors that affect a person’s decision to vape, and short term and long term consequences. As students mature they learn about the implications and consequences of use, and develop refusal skills and decision making strategies to make safe personal choices about behaviours such as vaping, including the choice to abstain. Resources such as The Students Commission of Canada’s Four Pillars help educators establish a safer and supportive environment. Strategies such as Think/ Pair/ Share, 4 Corners , or a Gallery Walk provide students with opportunities to engage in small group conversations to empower them to consider the implications of use on their present and future well-being, and make informed safer choices considering their own situations. Inquiry based learning is another effective approach, having students gather and organize information about vaping, examine the data, statistics and trends and make connections to their own lives. Students reflect on what they have learned about vaping to make informed choices related to their personal health and well-being and communicate those choices to others.

Where can I find resources about vaping and strategies for use in my classroom?

Resources about Vaping

Resources for Classrooms

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1Government of Canada. (2021). About Vaping. Retrieved from

2Government of Canada. (2021). Risks of Vaping. Retrieved from

3US Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from

4Government of Canada. (2021). Preventing Kids and Teens from Vaping. Retrieved from

5Boak, A., Elton-Marshall, T., Mann, R.Hamilton, H. (2020). Drug Use Among Ontario Students, 1977–2019: Detailed Findings From the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS). Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

6Harm Reduction International. (2021). What is Harm Reduction. Extracted from