Electronic cigarettes need regulatory response, experts say

Published on May 5, 2014
Often called ‘vapes’, Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, says electronic cigarettes can still be found in pharmacies and gas stations.
Maddie Keenlyside/Journal Pioneer

By Maddie Keenlyside/ Journal Pioneer  

SUMMERSIDE – Electronic cigarettes are an emerging health concern on the Island, says P.E.I.’s public health office.

There are concerns the devices may “renormalize” tobacco use among youth, along with the unknown impact on health it carries. Some health officials say too much is still unknown about e-cigarettes related to safety, quality and efficacy as well as second-hand effects on non-users.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said e-cigarettes are in fact illegal in Canada. Because nicotine is a drug, a product that contains nicotine is subject to the Food and Drugs Act, he said.

“In the same way the nicotine gum and nicotine patch first needed approval by Health Canada, that would also be true from an electronic cigarette that contains nicotine.”

The Canadian Cancer Society only recommends nicotine replacements that have been approved by Health Canada, and the nicotine-containing e-liquid is not among these, he said.  

“As far as Canada is concerned, there’s no grey area. There’s no doubt that you first need approval from Heath Canada. You can’t go around selling nicotine lollipops or nicotine chocolate bars. The law is clear.”

Luke Hahn is manager of online e-liquid vendor Canada e-Juice.

He started smoking electronic cigarettes in November of 2013, initially as a way to quit tobacco-based cigarettes.

Health Canada has sent his company letters in the past, asking them to cease selling the nicotine-containing e-liquid cartidges to be used in electronic cigarettes, he said.

“They’re trying to say that we need to stop selling them, but the way that the law is right now, there’s no actual legal action Health Canada can take against any of the companies.”

Cunningham said there is a clear need for regulatory response to this new product.

“The P.E.I. government should be prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and should be prohibiting use of e-cigarettes in workplaces and public places where smoking is banned.”

In Nova Scotia, the Minister of Health has said he will be bringing legislation forward this spring. 

“We don’t want kids using e-cigarettes because it normalizes smoking and could be a gateway to future smoking behaviour. Also, we don’t want e-cigarettes used where smoking is banned.”

There are questions about second-hand vapour enforcement questions, and there’s also the issue of renormalizing smoking, he said.

But Canada e-Juice’s Hahn said he doesn’t see why Health Canada is delaying the product. In his opinion, it can help people quit smoking, he said.

“Smoking kills billions of people per year, yet this is a healthy way to quit smoking and it’s not allowed.” 

The nicotine content is optional, and he thinks the vapour is generally less unhealthy than traditional cigarettes.

“The only thing you’re inhaling would be the propylene glycol and the vegetable glycerin.”

“[But] the way I see it, if you’re putting anything into your lungs, it’s not going to be as good as if you were not doing it at all.”

Summerside’s e-cigarette vendor, 902Vapes, declined to comment.