Photo via Vaping360
Although they are readily available from corner stores, supermarkets, and specialized shops and through online retailers across the country, it is presently against the law to sell e-cigarettes with nicotine anywhere in Canada.
Yesterday afternoon, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA), took its first substantive step toward changing this and developing policy to govern the production and sale of e-cigarettes, which work by turning liquid, often containing nicotine, into a vapor the user inhales. In a report, "Vaping: Towards a Regulatory Framework for E-Cigarettes," the HESA made a set of recommendations that will shape Health Canada's approach to the issue and called on the government "to establish a new legislative framework … for regulating electronic cigarettes."
The HESA study was conducted at the request the Health Minister Rona Ambrose and followed the World Health Organization's call for member states to develop policy that minimizes the risks associated with vaping. The report is a first step in bringing regulation to the e-cigarette industry, which presently operates in sort of a legal grey zone.
"We need new regulations for e-cigarettes," said Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society. "At the moment there is a regulatory vacuum."
Since 2009, Health Canada has advised Canadians against the purchase and use of e-cigarettes, which are not authorized under the Food and Drugs Act. E-cigarettes and the liquids used in them have been seized at Canadian borders and Health Canada has issued numerous cease-and-desist letters to e-cigarette retailers. The HESA report notes, between April 1 and June 30, 2014, 741 shipments of e-cigarettes were "recommended for refusal" at the Canadian-American border.
This restrictive policy has proven ineffective.
E-cigarettes are big business in Canada. Most major Canadian cities have more than a dozen devoted e-cigarette shops, where consumers can buy e-cigarettes, replacement parts, and liquids, with and without nicotine, in a variety of flavours. The trade is also booming online. According to a December 2014 poll by Toronto research firm Forum Research Inc., one in seven Canadians over the age of 18 have tried an e-cigarette.
Part of the difficulty in developing policy around e-cigarettes is the relative newness of the industry. A great deal is still unknown about the health effects of vaping, and the first of the fourteen recommendations made in the HESA report calls on the government to financially support more research into the subject.
Many of the other recommendations in the report focused on health issues and keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. It suggested that e-cigarettes only be sold to adults, a practice that many e-cigarette retailers already abide by; that they be shipped and sold in child-resistant packaging with warning labels; and that e-liquids with flavours that are likely to appeal to children (such as candy flavours), marketing aimed specifically at minors, and cross-marketing with tobacco products be prohibited. The report also recommended that all e-liquids should be clearly labeled to list their ingredients, and that their use should be banned in public spaces.
Melodie Tilson, Director of Policy for the National Non-smokers Rights Association, stated that her organization was pleased with the recommendations in the HESA report, but said that they had hoped for more. "We are disappointed that it is light in its analysis of the major issues—health effects and cessation effectiveness—and in specifics regarding the legislative framework."
One of the major questions that the report left open was whether e-cigarettes should be regulated as a tobacco product, as a general consumer product, as pharmaceuticals, or as a new type of good. This is a critical issue as the classification of e-cigarettes will be important in determining what types of testing and government controls they are subject to.
The HESA recommendations do not carry the force of law, and there is no specific timeframe for developing policy or legislation based on them. However, David Sweanor, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who studies health policy, suggests that the issue has become too big for the federal government to not act promptly.
Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter.