British Columbia is set to implement the toughest restrictions on vaping in the country in a bid to crack down on exploding rates of youth vaping.
The province unveiled proposals Thursday that include a tax hike on vaping products, a cap on nicotine content and a reduction in access to flavoured items.
These measures are a response to concerns about the rates of youth vaping and smoking in Canada and the proliferation of vaping in flavours such as bubblegum, cinnamon and vanilla, which many young people have embraced. Youth vaping in Canada increased by 74 per cent from 2017 to 2018, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.
Vaping has come under fire over the past few months. There have been more than 2,000 confirmed and probable cases of severe lung illness related to vaping in the United States, although many of them have been linked to unregulated THC vaping pods. In Canada, there are three confirmed cases in Quebec, three probable cases in B.C., and two probable cases in New Brunswick.
The federal government introduced updated legislation last year that governs how both tobacco and vaping products are sold, labelled, produced and promoted in the country. In the United States, the Trump administration is considering a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes and further restrictions on vaping and smoking.
The proposed legislation in British Columbia would increase the provincial sales tax on vaping products to 20 per cent, from 7 per cent – making B.C. the first province to have a specific tax rate for vaping products.
In comparison, rules in most other provinces typically include a minimum age of 18 or 19, govern where vaping products can be purchased or used and regulate signage and advertising. Ontario, for example, recently moved to ban vaping advertisements from convenience stores and gas stations. Alberta, which has no restrictions on vaping, is expected to table legislation in the spring.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that rapidly changing vaping technology has meant that nicotine levels in e-cigarettes have increased.
“In a short number of years, vaping has shifted from being a smoking-cessation tool for adults to an addictions trap for our youth,” said Mr. Dix, who stood alongside Finance Minister Carole James and Education Minister Rob Fleming for the announcement on Thursday.
“Large vaping manufacturers have embraced this new technology and have used flavours and advertising to introduce a new generation of young people to very high levels of a very addictive drug, nicotine.”
Ms. James said the tax increase will be coupled with a 2-cent increase on cigarettes and loose tobacco because “we don’t want young people turning to tobacco products.”
“Yes, it is a big tax jump – and one that really signifies the urgency of this problem,” Ms. James said. “We all know that youth are particularly price-sensitive, and so when you make a product more expensive, and harder to access, youth will decline.”
The legislation would also cap the maximum amount of nicotine in vapour pods and liquid to 20 mg/ml, and require plain packaging with health warnings. Advertising in public places that youth may frequent – such as bus shelters and community parks – would be banned.
The sale of flavoured products would be restricted to adult-only vaping stores, meaning retail locations such as convenience stores would be able to sell only tobacco-flavoured vaping products. Mr. Dix said this would slash the number of locations eligible to sell other flavours from 90,000 to just a few hundred across the province.
Flavours that are “directly targeting youth” will be banned at a later date after consultations, he added.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, called the package of measures “significant,” noting that B.C. will be the first province to have a tax rate for vaping, first to require plain packaging and first to restrict flavours.
“B.C. will have, by far, the strongest measures of any province and provide an example not only for other provinces but for the federal government,” he said. “The federal government should build on what B.C. has done by adopting measures to restrict advertising, flavours and maximum nicotine for the country as a whole.”
Mark Tyndall, a physician, researcher and professor at the University of B.C.’s School of Population and Public Health, said he was concerned that the proposed legislation may make it more difficult for adult cigarette smokers to make the transition to vaping, which is less harmful.
“That has been lost in the conversation, because it’s such an easy thing to make a case that we need to prevent young people from using nicotine,” he said. “Vaping can offer [smokers] a safer product, and regulations that make it difficult for people to use it, really don’t consider their interests.”
Dr. Tyndall cited the flavour restrictions and nicotine caps as potential issues.
“I think it’s unnecessary to limit all flavours outside of vape shops. I’m not advocating for thousands of child-friendly flavours, but you talk to any vape-shop owner – nobody wants tobacco flavours. So there need to be some options,” he said.
“And then the dosing: People who are heavy smokers will not be satisfied with low levels of nicotine, and this will either discourage people from using them altogether, or really create dual use.”
If approved by the legislature, the new tax rate would come into effect on Jan. 1, and the other regulations on April 1.
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