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New controls should protect young people

One could be excused for believing that the sale of electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine is legal in Canada.

Daryl Cura demonstrates an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago on April 23, 2014. Ontario's move to regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes has inspired calls for similar action in Newfoundland and Labrador. — Photo by The Canadian Press

After all, you need only stroll to your local “vape” shop to purchase e-cigarettes with cartridges containing nicotine-infused “e-juice” to get a hit.

But despite their wide availability in hundreds of brands and thousands of flavours, e-cigarettes with nicotine are not legal in Canada. No brand of e-cigarette has been approved for sale by Health Canada, though it has not been enforcing the ban for years.

Now Ottawa is set to corral the Wild West of e-cigarettes with welcome, enforceable amendments to the Tobacco Act. Health Canada says the changes are designed to balance the need to protect young people from nicotine addiction while allowing adult smokers to legally use vaping products to stop smoking or as a “potentially less-harmful alternative to tobacco.”

It appears Ottawa is getting the balance right after years of debate world-wide about the safety of e-cigarettes, including those that do not contain nicotine.

For too long children under 19 have had easy access to the addictive nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes because of a lack of enforcement. Indeed, one study in the Niagara region found that 10 per cent of Grade 9 students had used e-cigarettes.

That's dangerous because kids can get hooked on nicotine. And some health specialists believe that leads them to take up smoking. At the same time, there is wide debate among medical experts on whether or not “vaping” any type of liquid is safe.

That's why Ontario was smart to ban the sale of all types of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19. Experts believe e-cigarettes containing flavoured-only liquids lead to kids trying out the nicotine-laced ones and becoming addicted to them.

At the same time, there's wide support for legalizing e-cigarettes with nicotine for adult smokers who can use them to try to stop smoking, as they would a nicotine patch, or at least use a product that isn't as unhealthy as cigarettes.

If legalizing e-cigs with nicotine can help people stop smoking, or at least not smoke cigarettes, it will be a good thing. Smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death in Canada.

And there are other benefits to Ottawa regulating the sale of e-cigarettes. Right now there's no way for consumers to know whether product labels are accurate. A strong vetting and approval process by Health Canada for all nicotine-delivering devices would mean vapers would at last know how much nicotine they are getting from which brands and flavours.

The amendments will also allow the government to regulate the advertising of e-cigarettes, as they do tobacco products. Already they are too often aimed at “hooking” young kids.

The quicker these changes are introduced and enforced, the better.


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