Ontario is considering a ban on flavoured e-cigarette products, which appeal to young people, but it is also weighing concerns that restrictions could deter adults who use vapes to quit smoking. Balancing worries about the rising rates of youth vaping with the desire to make e-cigarettes an option for adult smokers is a growing public-health worry for governments in Canada and abroad.
The fate of flavours is among the most contested issues in the debate over how to regulate the vaping industry. Health advocates say flavours, which include cake, candy and ice cream, are attracting young people. However the e-cigarette industry, which has invested in significant lobbying efforts, says adult users are also drawn by flavours and a ban would destroy the market. Industry members say flavours are an important tool that can help convince existing adult smokers to try vaping, which Health Canada says is less harmful than smoking.
“Many adults who are using vaping as a smoking-cessation tool like flavours, so this is something that we are still studying,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday, referring to a possible ban of flavoured e-cigarettes.
In a follow-up e-mail, Hayley Chazan, a spokeswoman for Ms. Elliott, said the minister had heard from “a specialty vape-store owner that her customers have said that flavoured vaping products helped them quit smoking.”
So far, no government in Canada has moved to ban e-cigarette flavours. Some, such as Nova Scotia, have suggested they may move in that direction, particularly if the federal government doesn’t.
A Globe and Mail investigation published on Saturday revealed that e-cigarette companies are appealing to young people in Canada through promotion of flavours, as well as advertisements that push lifestyle benefits of vaping. The investigation found companies are hiring social-media influencers to endorse products and run vaping giveaways, boosting child-friendly e-liquid flavours online and running pop-up events staffed by attractive models.
U.S. President Donald Trump had promised in September to ban e-cigarette flavours in response to high youth rates and a growing outbreak of vaping-related lung disease. But two months later, under pressure from political advisers and lobbyists about potential pushback from his supporters, Mr. Trump has resisted moving forward with any action on vaping, saying he still wants to study the issue.
Under Canadian federal law, it’s illegal to advertise vaping products or flavours in ways that could appeal to minors or engage in any lifestyle advertising. Health advocates, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society say examples of companies flouting federal laws show why stronger rules are needed.
While Health Canada has said it will adopt new restrictions on e-cigarette advertising and possibly consider prohibiting some flavours, it’s unclear when or if any of those changes would take effect.
Last week, British Columbia unveiled new measures that would give it the toughest vaping laws in the country. Some of the new measures include plain packaging and required health warnings, a cap on nicotine content and restrictions on where flavoured products can be sold. Flavours that are “directly targeting youth” will be banned at a later date after consultations, the government said.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are also moving to regulate the e-cigarette industry, the last provinces to do so. In Alberta, government officials started studying the issue earlier this month and any proposed legislative changes are expected to be announced in the spring.
In Saskatchewan, officials recently announced a series of amendments to tackle youth vaping, including banning product displays in stores where young people have access and banning vaping near schools and other public buildings.
Like Ontario’s Ms. Elliott, Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said any new regulations must take into account the fact adults use e-cigarettes for smoking cessation.
“There’s a fine line there,” Mr. Reiter told reporters earlier this month. “There’s a balance"
The Canadian Vaping Association, which represents more than 300 specialty vape shops, e-liquid manufacturers and other vape companies in Canada, said in an open letter this month that flavours are not responsible for youth uptake. Instead, “irresponsible marketing, promotion and accessibility of certain vape brands in non-age restricted businesses” are to blame, the letter says.
The letter refers to marketing by major e-cigarette brands, such as Vype or Juul, which publicly advertise in many parts of Canada and often sell their products in convenience stores and gas stations.
The Vaping Industry Trade Association, which represents those brands, has also said a flavour ban would have devastating effects on the industry and could deter adult smokers from trying e-cigarettes.
With a report from Laura Stone
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