The Heart and Stroke Foundation wants the federal government to regulate the burgeoning electronic cigarette market to restrict access to minors, prohibit advertising and ban them from public places.
The Globe and Mail has learned the foundation will announce on Thursday a series of recommendations and call for the federal government to invest in research to determine whether e-cigarettes have any long-term safety risks and if the devices can help existing smokers reduce or quit. The organization is the latest health group to call for regulation of e-cigarettes, including the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and the Canadian Non-Smokers' Rights Association.
"We urgently need for governments to address this issue immediately," said Manuel Arango, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's director of health policy.
Regulations are needed to ensure that young people do not use e-cigarettes as a "gateway" to regular cigarettes, the Heart and Stroke Foundation said. The foundation has recommended that e-cigarettes be available by prescription only at first.
Earlier this week, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she will ask the Parliamentary health committee to examine the potential risks and benefits of e-cigarettes and seek opinions from stakeholders. It is the first time Ottawa has made a move on e-cigarettes since it issued a warning about them in 2009, and it comes amid growing criticism of the government's silence on the issue.
"I think the federal government is under some pressure," said Melodie Tilson, policy director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association.
It is still unclear what, if anything, will come of the minister's decision to refer the matter to a Parliamentary committee, Ms. Tilson said.
"A lot will depend on the timing and the scope that they give the health committee [and] what they do with any report," she said. "I'm hoping this isn't just an excuse for further delay in action."
Several other countries, including the United States, have already passed e-cigarette regulations or are moving forward with them.
In Canada, e-cigarettes with nicotine are not approved for sale, which means it is illegal to sell or advertise them. But there is very little enforcement in this area, and it is easy to buy e-cigarettes with nicotine from retail stores or online, said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society.
This week, Ms. Ambrose also said the federal government will close a loophole that has allowed candy- and fruit-flavoured cigarillos, or mini-cigars, to remain on the market despite a law designed to block them.
The move falls well short of what is actually needed, tobacco control experts say. That's because the proposed regulations apply only to cigarillos, meaning that candy- and fruit-flavoured tobacco for water pipes, chewing tobacco and other products that are popular among youth will still be available. The regulations will also exempt menthol, which is a major oversight because it is popular among both youth and adults, Ms. Tilson said.