People who sell e-cigarettes in Ontario are trying to dissuade the Liberal government from imposing new restrictions on how vape shops can market their products.
The proposed law would regulate vaping in the province in virtually the same way as smoking, with stiff restrictions on where e-cigarettes can be used and how the products can be displayed and sold.
Vape shop owners fear the new rules would ban their staff from showing customers how to use e-cigarettes or letting them sample flavoured vaping products known as e-juice. But government officials insist this is not their intent.
Treating e-cigarettes the same way as tobacco cigarettes "is in direct contradiction" with the government's goal of getting people not to smoke, Maria Papaioannoy, co-owner of Ecig Flavorium, a vape shop with outlets in Toronto and Port Hope, Ont.
Customers need employees to "walk them through how to use the product," said Papaioannoy during a news conference at the Ontario Legislature last week. "No one expects to go buy technology without an opportunity to get educated on how to use it."
Ontario's proposals are reigniting the debate between those who promote vaping as a way to reduce smoking, and those who believe vaping is a gateway that eventually leads young people to start smoking.
The legislation would put "really huge barriers in the way of the majority of smokers who say they want to quit," said David Sweanor, chair of the advisory committee of the University of Ottawa's Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.
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"We shouldn't be doing that for a product that is killing so many people," said Sweanor. "We need to offer [smokers] something that reduces the risk."
The purpose of the bill is to keep e-cigarettes and vaping products out of the hands of children and young people, said Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
"We're aligning [vaping] to what we do with cigarettes, so places to smoke and places to vape, making them equivalent," Hoskins told reporters at the legislature this week.
While the legislation would make it illegal for customers "to view or handle" e-cigarette products before purchase, the bill allows the government to exempt certain types of establishments.
Hoskins suggested vape shops could get exemptions similar to specialty cigar shops, which are allowed to let customers see, touch and smell cigars, as they are off limits to anyone under 19. "When it comes to the specialty stores… we understand for that 19-plus population, that it is reasonable to look at exemptions for them of what takes place in those shops," he said.
It is already illegal in Ontario to sell vaping products to anyone under 19.
The new bill would also permit the government to ban the sale of certain flavours of e-juice. While vaping advocates fear this means all flavours could be banned, Health Ministry officials told CBC News the intent is prohibit flavours that would attract the interest of children, such as bubble gum or cotton candy.
Hoskins said he will meet with people from the vaping industry next week to discuss their concerns.
The legislation is currently making its way through Queen's Park as part of a broader bill regulating the sale of cannabis.