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Ontario’s Liberal government wants to treat e-cigarettes just like tobacco cigarettes, which means a total ban on selling them to youth or using them in restaurants and public buildings.

CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

Ontario moved Monday to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes, ban all flavoured tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and mandate calorie counts on restaurant menus with its Making Healthier Choices Act.

The omnibus bill would treat e-cigarettes just like tobacco cigarettes, with a total ban on sales to youth and on using them in restaurants and public buildings.

"Until we have the evidence as to how bad or what the evidence is on electronic cigarettes, all we're saying is let's not get our kids started on this," said Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla.

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Even though e-cigarettes do not produce any secondhand smoke, they still send the wrong message to teens, added Damerla.

"The evidence shows if young kids see people smoking or vaping, they are likely to take up smoking or vaping," she said. "We're not banning it. All we're saying is we want to regulate it and there's absolutely nothing in this legislation that would stop an adult from using it."

The New Democrats said the Liberals should have taken action sooner.

"Every month that goes by, more and more youth pick up smoking by experimenting with e-cigarettes and then making the switch," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.

The legislation would also strengthen enforcement to allow for testing of substances smoked in water pipes and hookahs indoors, and outlaw so-called vapour lounges, where people use vapourizers similar to e-cigarettes.

The restaurant and motel industries asked for regulations on e-cigarettes so they don't have to fight with customers who aren't clear on the rules.

"There's about 43 states in the United States that have already moved forward with regulating electronic cigarettes in some form or fashion, and Nova Scotia recently passed similar legislation," said Damerla.

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The Ontario bill, which brings together the three previous pieces of legislation, would also ban all flavoured tobacco products, many of which are designed and packaged to appeal to teens, and will expand the previously planned prohibition to include menthol cigarettes.

"We know that flavoured [tobacco] and menthol cigarettes are aimed squarely at children and are meant to addict children and teenagers," said Dr. Scott Wooder of Stoney Creek, a former president of the Ontario Medical Association.

Evidence shows children who smoke menthol cigarettes smoke "significantly more" than children who smoke regular cigarettes, added Wooder.

"It's easier for them to get started on menthol cigarettes," he said. "It soothes the bitter burned tobacco taste of cigarettes."

The Canadian Cancer Society called the ban on flavoured tobacco "a giant step forward in protecting the health of Ontario youth and preventing cancer," and applauded the "bold decision" to include menthol cigarettes in the ban.

The industry will have up to two years to phase out menthol cigarettes, but most other provisions of the bill will kick in by Jan. 1, 2016, said Damerla.

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The bill will also require restaurants and grocery stores with more than 20 outlets in Ontario to list calorie counts on their menus and menu boards.

"Sixty per cent of the large chain restaurants already have this information available if customers were to ask for it or if you go online," said Damerla. "So they're already compiled the information and we're just taking it to the next step to make it easy for consumers to be able to see the information."

Mandating calorie postings on menus "will require complex regulations that will take time and industry collaboration to be successful," warned Restaurants Canada, which represents 30,000 restaurants, bars, caterers and suppliers.

"Calorie counts can only be provided when there is a high degree of standardization," said Restaurants Canada spokesman James Rilett. "While this is common in food manufacturing, it's the exception in a restaurant setting."

However, the NDP said the Liberals should have also mandated sodium levels be posted alongside the calorie counts on restaurant menus.

"It is something that's done in more and more jurisdictions and it's something that's easy to do," said Gelinas. "It's a flag that you put on the menu."

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