Ottawa health officials are pushing for electronic cigarette regulations in the province, joining their counterparts in Toronto.

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said in a report to city staff he wants e-cigarettes banned anywhere smoking is not allowed and rules put in for their sale to minors.

Ottawa Public Health said they’ve written letters to Health Canada and the province about e-cigarettes, expressing concern about the lack of regulation and research.

Sherry Nigro Ottawa Public Health E Cigarette

Sherry Nigro of Ottawa Public Health says the organization has been pushing the federal and provincial governments for more regulations for e-cigarette use. (CBC)

"We don't know what's in there, is it nicotine that's not claimed, the fact it hasn't been tested for what it does to the body, there's no regulation for consistency… it's a lot of unknowns," said Sherry Nigro, Ottawa Public Health’s manager of health promotion and disease prevention.

Nigro said she believes the City of Ottawa could carry out its own restrictions if the province does not.

"It's certainly something we would have some discussions about… it sounds like we would be able to do that if there's local support for it, that we could perhaps align it with municipal bylaws and could enforce it that way," she said.

Toronto sets February deadline

E-cigarettes have experienced a steady increase in popularity recently, with a few businesses dedicated specifically to them opening in Ottawa over the past months.

The battery-powered devices work by heating a cartridge filled with liquid, occasionally flavoured and sometimes containing nicotine, to turn it into vapour.

Dr. McKeown's report, dated Aug. 1, said he wants the province to add e-cigarettes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act by February 2015 or he'll take those steps to restrict their use in Toronto.

"Concern exists that e-cigarette promotion and use in places where smoking is prohibited could undermine tobacco control legislation and quit attempts and serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction or smoking initiation among youth," the report said.

"Furthermore, emerging evidence raises concerns about e-cigarette safety for users and those exposed to second-hand vapour."

'Pushing them right back into the smoking pits'

The owner of an Ontario-wide e-cigarette store said placing e-cigarette smokers with people smoking cigarettes and cigars is not the right move.

"Restricting where they're used, we're penalizing them. It's like telling an alcoholic they can only drink water at the bar. What do you think’s going to happen? They're going to start drinking again," said Steve Moreau, owner of Esteam Canada.

"The end goal is to have people not use tobacco-type products, we have a product here which is helping them move off of that and the government is pushing them right back into the smoking pits."

Moreau said nicotine is a controlled substance, his stores follow those rules and he'd support more defined regulations to stop people from selling e-cigarette cartridges with too much nicotine.

He also said tar and other ingredients are the issue with tobacco products, not the nicotine itself.

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