OTTAWA—A parliamentary report released this week is recommending that the government establish new legislation for regulating electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine or other substances.
The parliamentary committee on health also recommends that manufacturers disclose the ingredients contained in the liquid or vapour, restrict advertising, prohibit flavourings, and ban the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18.
“We agree there needs to be a new regulatory framework for electronic cigarettes,” says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society.
“We are hoping the committee report will lead to swift effective action by the federal government. There is a regulatory vacuum at the moment. Provinces have already moved forward in their regulation of e-cigarettes.”
Nova Scotia remains the only province with legislation governing e-cigarettes, also known as vapourizers, while Ontario and British Columbia currently have legislation that is being debated.
However, one researcher worries that the ongoing discussions about e-cigarettes miss a fundamental issue: how to view tobacco products. David Sweanor, a law professor and expert in tobacco policy at the University of Ottawa, says the fact that e-cigarettes don’t produce smoke has created a challenge for the health profession, and a clear goal is needed.
“We haven’t dealt with the product because we can’t get a consensus on what the goal is,” he says.
“In other areas of public health—automobiles, pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment—we have regulated the product. In tobacco and nicotine we have regulated everything but the product because we still don’t have a public consensus. Is this a public health goal or a moralistic, abstinence-only goal?”
Sweanor, who has been involved in tobacco control initiatives in Canada since the 1980s, has suggested that the use of nicotine in e-cigarettes could be a method to assist people in quitting smoking and should be debated further.
Last year, he was one of more than 50 public health and nicotine experts who were signatories to an open letter urging the World Health Organization not to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
The letter argued that e-cigarettes and other vapor or smokeless products should be seen as “significant health innovations” and “part of the solution” in the fight against smoking.
“We refer to ‘tobacco harm reduction’—the idea that the 1.3 billion people who currently smoke could do much less harm to their health if they consumed nicotine in low-risk, non-combustible form,” the experts said.
Sweanor says simply quitting smoking doesn’t work for most people and the aim of legislators should be “to find less hazardous ways for smokers to get what they need.”
An estimated 40,000 people aged 35 or older die each year in Canada as a direct result of smoking, according to the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.
Six out of ten Canadians who have ever been smokers have managed to quit, noted a 2014 Health Canada report that examined tobacco trends between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, approximately 4.6 million Canadians were daily smokers.
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.