British Columbia is becoming the latest province to regulate electronic cigarettes, with legislation designed to prevent young people from using the devices or being exposed to their vapour.
Health Minister Terry Lake introduced legislation Thursday that would ban e-cigarette sales to people under 19 and prohibit their use in indoor public spaces and workplaces.
He said the legislation, which will also ban e-cigarette smoking on school grounds and at health facilities, aims to limit children's exposure to potentially harmful e-cigarette vapours and smoking.
"Our first goal is to protect B.C. young people from these products," Lake said as he introduced amendments to the Tobacco Control Act in the B.C. Legislature.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that do not contain tobacco but can be used to heat a liquid, creating a vapour that users inhale. No inserts containing nicotine have been approved for sale in Canada.
Their popularity has been fuelled by the belief that they do not pose the same health risks as traditional cigarettes, though concerns have been raised about the safety of e-cigarette vapour.
"We don't know what's in those e-cigarettes," Lake told reporters after he introduced the legislation.
Lake said the government decided it must protect young people from the potential harms of e-cigarettes and is confident the legislation can withstand challenges on those grounds.
"Our duty as government is to protect young people from potential harm and given the lack of information on what's in these products, their potential health effects, and that this may serve as a gateway to smoking, I think we have a legitimate right to take this step," said Lake.
Ontario and Nova Scotia have introduced legislation banning e-cigarettes in public places. Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba have said they are considering similar e-cigarette laws.
B.C. Opposition New Democrat health critic Judy Darcy said the government took the right step with the e-cigarette ban for youth, but she said the Liberals missed the opportunity to target flavoured tobacco, which can contribute to young people to start smoking. Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta have introduced legislation banning flavoured tobacco sales to young people.
"Thirty thousand young people start smoking in B.C. every year and half of them begin with flavoured tobacco," she said.
"B.C. should be showing leadership on flavoured tobacco, as well."
Canadian Cancer Society spokeswoman Khairun Jivani said recent statistics indicate up to 20 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 years and 19 years have tried e-cigarettes.
"This announcement has made an important step to keep our British Columbia youth healthy, and there is still the opportunity for us to take it a step further and expand this ban and legislation to include outdoor public spaces like beaches and parks," she said.
The cancer society cited a 2013 survey conducted by the McCreary Centre Society, which found 21 per cent of B.C. youth who responded had tried smoking. Of those, 16 per cent had used e-cigarettes.