Adults in Canada will soon have easier access to e-cigarettes and vaping supplies — and be exposed to more ads promoting them — now that the federal Liberal government has passed legislation formally legalizing and regulating the practice.
Once the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act receives royal assent in the coming days, it will prohibit the sale of vape products to minors, ban flavours aimed at young people and prohibit marketing that features testimonials, health claims or “lifestyle” themes.
It also allows the legal manufacture, import and sale of vaping products both with and without nicotine, Health Canada said Wednesday. Other provisions will come into force 180 days after the bill becomes law to give manufacturers and importers time to comply.
Manufacturers that want to market their products with therapeutic claims, such as for smoking cessation, will still require the agency’s blessing before their products can be imported, advertised or sold in Canada.
Some experts cheered the vaping regulations, saying they give legitimacy to something that could prove a boon for smokers who are trying to quit. Others fear the restrictions could keep those very same people from exploring its potential as a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes.
Where they agree, however, is that Canada continues to lack sufficient research into vaping and its potential effects.
The law essentially treats vaping like smoking, with similar regulations, said David Sweanor, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.
It prevents companies that make so-called “non-combustion” products from informing smokers about significantly less hazardous options, Sweanor said, and fails to adequately distinguish between the relative risks of cigarettes, and e-cigarettes and other alternatives.
Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Laurent Marcoux welcomed the legislation for its restrictions on promoting and advertising vape products., but warned its still too soon to embrace it as a potential stop-smoking aid.
“We’re very pleased. We’ve been working on this issue for so many years and it’s a public health issue and we are very glad to see it will not attract young people,” said Marcoux.
“We know some people use it to quit smoking, but it’s not proved yet how it works. We need more research before we recommend it as a good thing. I think we should wait and be more cautious.”
Lesley James, manager of health policy at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said Canada needed a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes because “it’s been the wild west in Canada.”
“We haven’t had any safety standards, and e-cigarettes with nicotine have been illegal, but they have been accessible,” she said, adding that the new legislation allows Canadians to try e-cigarettes as a “quit aid.”
On the other hand, the marketing restrictions are “hugely important” and worth keeping an eye on, since other countries have stricter rules than Canada — and for good reason, James said.
“These products are highly appealing to youth and we want to make sure that Canadian youth aren’t experimenting and taking up e-cigarettes any more than they are right now.”
Big Tobacco, meanwhile, came out staunchly opposed to the legislation’s additional crackdown on cigarette packaging, since it prohibits outright any sort of promotional information and branding, including logos.
Cigarette makers have the right to brand their products, said Eric Gagnon, the director of government relations at Imperial Tobacco Canada.
And while the company supports the vaping regulations, manufacturers and retailers should be able to market directly to their customers, he added.
“One of the challenges we’re facing is that most of the provinces are regulating vaping right now as tobacco … products are hidden from view,” Gagnon said.
“With that mindset it becomes difficult to inform consumers of the benefits of using vaping products.”
Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press