The Quebec government may soon crack down on the sale of electronic cigarettes, if Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois has her way.

Charlebois wants the sale of e-cigarettes to minors banned. She also wants to apply the same rules to e-cigarettes as to real cigarettes under the Tobacco Act — meaning people wouldn’t be able to use e-cigarettes freely in public spaces.

André Beaulieu, spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society, said it’s about time.

“We just issued numbers two days ago showing kids in high schools and even at level 6 in primary schools are using the product,” Beaulieu said. “Just in primary school, we estimate that 5,000 kids… have already tried the project and that 142,000 high school students have tried e-cigarettes in the past.”

And those are just Quebec statistics.

He said e-cigarettes are marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, and it’s that perception of safety that is causing young people who would never otherwise smoke, to smoke.

“We’re re-normalizing the act of smoking,” Beaulieu said. “We want to avoid a new generation of smokers.”

Legal grey zone

Currently, e-cigarettes are not authorized for sale in Canada — but they’re not illegal. E-cigarette products containing nicotine or products that make health claims, however, are.

'We’re re-normalizing the act of smoking.' - André Beaulieu, Canadian Cancer Society

Beaulieu of the Canadian Cancer Society said a recent study conducted in partnership with the University of Montreal showed that even e-liquids marketed and sold as nicotine-free actually contained the addictive substance.

Still, Health Canada is not clamping down on anyone selling the products.

Julien-Pierre Maltais is the manager of e-cigarette boutique Vaporus, on St-Denis Street.

He said that even though there is currently no legislation about not selling to minors, his store has made it a policy to card anyone who looks under 25.

“We never sell e-cigs or e-liquids to minors. There’s no law that prohibits us from doing that, but as a moral thing we would never sell to anyone under 18. Matter of fact, we abide by kind of the same rule as corner stores will, so if somebody looks younger than a 25-year-old we'll definitely card them,” he said.

He doesn’t agree with the proposal to ban e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” in the same places regular smoking is banned

Maltais said when it comes to privately owned businesses, it should be up to each proprietor to decide whether to allow e-cigarette use on premises.

Cheaper, less toxic alternative

Maltais also made the point that using an e-cigarette is cheaper than smoking. He estimated that a pack-a-day smoker who switched to an e-cigarette would spend about $20 every two weeks on good quality e-liquids, rather than about $10 a day on cigarettes.

So far studies show that there are no carcinogens in e-cigarette vapour, Maltais said, and that’s why many doctors send their patients looking to quit smoking to shops like Vaporus.

“Nicotine doesn’t give you cancer, it gives you addiction,” he said. “So, people smoke for the nicotine but they die from the combustion.”