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Medical health officer calls for e-cigarette ban

These non-tabacco electronic vaporizers are available at convenience stores in Tsawwassen and their sale is not restricted to minors.  - Adrian MacNair photo
These non-tabacco electronic vaporizers are available at convenience stores in Tsawwassen and their sale is not restricted to minors.
— image credit: Adrian MacNair photo

The rise in popularity of electronic cigarettes has prompted medical health officers throughout the country to call for restrictions in their usage.

Fraser Health chief medical health officer Paul Van Buynder said B.C.'s chief medical health officers met recently to discuss the topic of e-cigarettes and their largely unregulated usage in public places. Last Friday Nova Scotia's health ministry proposed to ban e-cigarettes from bars and restaurants, whether the devices are loaded with nicotine or just flavours.

"We've taken enormous efforts to stop smoking in buildings, parks, hospitals, schools and so on, and our current guidelines don't address these," said Van Buynder. "So, we have situations where children may feel that they can use these in a school ground."

Worse still, Van Buynder suggested non-nicotine flavoured e-cigarette vaporizers could be a gateway to smoking tobacco.

Flavoured e-cigarettes are clearly aimed at the teenage market and pose a danger to the progress made against smoking cessation, he added.

"It's going to make children used to holding cigarettes, sucking on cigarettes," he said. "This is a very retrograde step and a huge risk to our tobacco control programs."

A Tsawwassen father recently discovered that non-nicotine e-cigarettes are easily obtainable by children when his 11-year-old son showed up with one.

Joe Braico said on Dec. 24 his son Luca and his friends walked into the Tsawwassen Lottery Ticket Centre and bought the blueberry-flavoured electronic cigarette at a cost of $10.

One of his son's friends had bought one there earlier in the week and thought it was "pretty cool" so he wanted one for himself.

The product, called eZee Cig, is a disposable electronic vaporizer replica cigarette with an advertised 600 puffs. It glows when the person inhales and then releases a realistic puff of smoke.

"The concern we have, besides our child trying to emulate smoking, is the lack of morals or common sense when it comes to the sale of such items," said Braico.

The eZee Cig's packaging says it is not a smoking cessation device, is not associated with any health claim and is not intended to be used with nicotine. Although the package states it is "intended for use by persons of legal smoking age," it is not regulated under the Food and Drug Act by Health Canada.

E-cigarettes with nicotine delivery meant for smoking cessation are regulated under the Food and Drug Act and restricted to use for adults over the age of 19. But replica cigarettes like these remain legal for sale to minors.

Tsawwassen Lottery Centre store owner Jasper Lee said Braico is the first person to complain about the product. When asked whether he's sold the cigarette to other children, he said it's popular amongst all ages.

"Even the people who buy real nicotine cigarettes are buying it," he said.

Van Buynder said health authorities are working to pressure the federal government to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as other tobacco products, including vaporizers like eZee Cig.

"We want to make sure that all of our tobacco legislation–whether it's municipal or hospital-based–changes in order to make it clear that we're not interested in having e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine or tobacco or any other form available within our sights," he said.

In 2010, Health Canada made it illegal for retailers to sell some types of flavoured tobacco in products weighing less than 1.4 grams.

The federal prohibition didn't cover menthol and the Canadian Cancer Society says producers skirted the other flavour restrictions by making cigarillos slightly larger.

The society is urging B.C. to ban candy or fruit-flavoured tobacco products in a bid to protect children.

The society said a poll by Angus Reid shows the proposed ban is supported by 74 per cent of B.C. adults and 81 per cent of teens aged 15 to 18.

"We are urging the B.C. government to protect children from the predatory marketing practices of the tobacco industry and the products which, through their packaging and appearance, are aggressively targeted to youth," said the society's Kathryn Seely.

On the society's hit list are flavoured cigarillos, water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and menthol cigarettes.

Seely said flavours like chocolate, peach, cherry and strawberry appeal to youth and reduce the harsh effects of cigarette smoke, making it easier for youth to experiment and become addicted.

She cited a previous national youth survey that found 53 per cent of youth tobacco users in B.C. – 30,500 students – had used flavoured tobacco.

– with files from Jeff Nagel, Surrey North Delta Leader

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