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Health Minister Christine Elliott, seen in a file photo, has announced Ontario is banning vaping advertisements in convenience stores and gas stations in response to concerns over the risks posed by e-cigarettes.

Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Ontario is banning vaping advertisements from convenience stores and gas stations, reversing a policy decision that advocates said allowed the e-cigarette industry to flourish amid concerns over youth vaping.

Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the changes in a news release Friday, saying the restrictions, which take effect Jan. 1, 2020, will help protect young people.

The decision supplants a policy the government adopted a year ago, when it passed legislation allowing vaping companies to advertise in public. Since then, e-cigarette ads have become ubiquitous in convenience stores and gas stations.

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The new restrictions would still allow companies to advertise e-cigarettes in other public places, such as billboards and on public transit.

Hayley Chazan, a spokeswoman for Ms. Elliott, said in an e-mail that the federal government has jurisdiction over advertising in public places such as billboards. However, provinces do have jurisdiction over public advertising. In fact, several provinces, including Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, have banned advertisements in public places.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said he’s hopeful that the Ontario government will enact further measures affecting the industry, such as restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to specialty vape shops.

Earlier this year, Health Canada proposed changes that would restrict many forms of advertising for e-cigarettes, but it’s unclear when, or if, those changes would take effect.

There has been increasing concern over vaping in Canada in recent months as a result of new data showing the number of teens who vape nearly doubled in a year, as well as the growing outbreak of vaping-related lung disease across North America.

Health organizations have been calling on governments to do more to protect youth, including a ban on advertisements, flavoured e-cigarettes and restrictions on where the products can be sold. Some provinces have adopted new measures or hinted they will bring in further restrictions.

On Thursday, Alberta’s government said it would bring in a new tax on vaping products, a move health experts say could make it more difficult for youth to access e-cigarettes. Nova Scotia’s opposition party tabled a bill last month that would ban flavoured e-cigarette products, which the government said it would consider. Also last month, B.C.'s government said it would restrict the number of vendors allowed to sell e-cigarette products.

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Earlier this year, Canadian data showed that the number of 16- to 19-year-olds who used vaping products in the past week rose to 9.3. per cent in 2018 from 5.2 per cent the previous year. The number who reported using vaping products in the past month rose to 14.6 per cent in 2018 from 8.4 per cent in 2017.

“Youth vaping really is a growing public-health crisis,” said Gigi Osler, past president of the Canadian Medical Association. “Now really is the time to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the health of Canadians.”

Many health organizations applauded Ontario’s decision to ban vaping ads from convenience stores and gas stations, but said much more should be done at the provincial and federal levels.

Members of the vaping industry said the move to restrict advertising will make it more difficult for them to reach what they say is their target audience: adult smokers looking to quit.

“It feels like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” said Daniel David, president of the Vaping Industry Trade Association, which represents major e-cigarette brands, such as Juul and Vype. “This only further damages the public perception of vaping as a less-harmful alternative to smoking.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week more than 1,600 people have fallen ill and 34 people have died as a result of the vaping-related lung illness. The majority of those who have become sick were using vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and many of those products were likely purchased on the black market. But the outbreak has drawn increasing scrutiny to all vaping products and the fact that very little is known about the long-term health effects of using those products.

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