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A person vapes in Chicago on April 23, 2014.Nam Y. Huh/The Canadian Press

The federal government has announced it will introduce legislative amendments this fall to regulate e-cigarettes in Canada.

Tuesday's long-awaited move comes after several provinces have already passed laws banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the use of vaping products in public places.

Health Canada said the move will balance the need to protect young people from nicotine addiction while allowing adult smokers to buy vaping products and e-cigarettes legally to help them quit smoking or as a potentially less harmful alternative to tobacco.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to look like traditional cigarettes. They use liquid-filled cartridges, often containing nicotine, that is vaporized when a user inhales.

The government says an estimated 87,000 Canadians, including many young people, will become daily smokers this year, placing them and others at risk of developing a variety of diseases and illnesses.

The use of e-cigarettes has exploded in popularity in recent years. While e-cigarettes that contain nicotine are not authorized for sale in Canada, experts say consumers can readily find them at corner stores and online. For years, advocacy groups have asked the federal government to regulate e-cigarettes, in large part because of concerns young people would use them as a gateway to smoking cigarettes.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last July found 10 per cent of Grade 9 students in one Ontario region reported trying e-cigarettes, citing the fact they are "fun" and "cool."

Proponents of e-cigarettes say adults can use them to quit smoking because they can gradually reduce the amount of nicotine in them, and that regulation is needed to protect consumers against toxic or other potentially risky ingredients that may be in unregulated e-cigarettes.

Several studies have attempted to determine whether e-cigarettes are a truly effective smoking cessation tool, but many of the results are mixed.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, called the announcement encouraging, but said the lack of specifics makes it impossible to know exactly what the government plans.

He added that other gaps in tobacco legislation around issues such as flavoured tobacco and hookahs should also be addressed.

"We need to modernize legislation," he said. "There's lots of gaps, lots of holes. We have a real opportunity to do things right."

The federal government also said it is moving forward with a one-year extension of its tobacco-control strategy, which will give it time to "develop a new and effective long-term plan," according to a Health Canada news release.

The strategy was introduced in 2001 and last renewed four years ago.

In addition, federal work continues on a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, as well as a commitment to introduce plain and standardized packaging requirements on all tobacco products.

With a report from the Canadian Press