OTTAWA – The federal government wants to keep vapour-based e-cigarettes out of the hands of children while ensuring smokers can access the devices to help mitigate the health risks of the tobacco habit, says Health Minister Jane Philpott.
New legislation introduced Tuesday in the Senate aims to tackle 21st-century tobacco use by retooling the existing tobacco law as the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act and creating a new class for vapour-based products.
But as questions persist about the health effects, vaping remains a double-edged sword of sorts for regulators, who find themselves trying to strike a delicate balance.
“We know that there is some evidence to suggest that the use of vaping products can be used as a harm reduction tool for people who are current smokers,” Philpott said outside the Commons.
“At the same time they have shown to be an enticement for young people to take up smoking and become addicted to nicotine.”
Health Canada says products like e-cigarettes have been growing in popularity and it’s high time the government took steps to regulate their manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion, Philpott said.
“Unfortunately, up until now, there has not been federal legislation associated with vaping and it has been something that the provinces have asked for.”
The provinces and territories like to see a cohesive piece of legislation at the federal level to ensure there are regulations on access and promotion, she added.
Data from the 2015 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey show that 26 per cent Canadian youth aged 15-19 reported trying an e-cigarette in 2015 – up from 20 per cent in 2013.
The proposed changes also support the government’s plans to require plain packaging for tobacco products, said Philpott, who plans to host a national forum on tobacco control early next year.
Rob Cunningham, a senior policy adviser at the Canadian Cancer Society, said the legislation follows on the heels of recommendations from a Commons health committee report issued in March 2015.
Health Canada’s tobacco control strategy, set to expire in March 2018, needs to be strengthened, Cunningham said.
“It includes this legislation, it includes strengthening the funding to have better programs but also includes further amendments to update the tobacco legislation that is very much out of date.”
In a statement, the Canadian Medical Association hailed the government’s decision.
The association has recommended a ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes to Canadians younger than the minimum age for tobacco consumption in their province or territory.