Before Canadians knew the term vaping, they heard about 'e-cigarettes'

CBC viewers got an early look at vaping products when The National reported on so-called electronic cigarettes in early 2009.

In January 2009, CBC reported on new devices 'delivering nicotine in a tobacco-less vapour cloud'

Electronic cigarettes offer an alternative to smoking

13 years ago
In England and in Edmonton, consuming nicotine as a vapour gets positive reviews. 2:03

Everybody knew about traditional cigarettes and the people addicted to them — the smokers, who over the decades, had been left with fewer and fewer places to indulge in their habit.

"We see them all the time, furtively getting their nicotine hit outdoors," the CBC's Nancy Durham said in a report that aired on The National on Jan. 2, 2009. "The last refuge for smokers."

The camera showed people smoking cigarettes at patio tables and around doorways.

It was a familiar scene in Canada, as well as over in Britain where Durham was reporting from.

A 'tobacco-less vapour cloud'?

"That gives you a cooler sensation than a real cigarette," said Janet Partt, a pub owner who liked being able to use electronic cigarettes indoors. (The National/CBC Archives)

In a pub in Cambridgeshire, England, smoking had been banned, forcing smokers to huddle in a tent outside.

But inside, Durham met patrons and two publicans who had discovered a new, not-yet-familiar invention: electronic cigarettes.

"The e-cigarette mimics real smoking, delivering nicotine in a tobacco-less vapour cloud," she explained.

Trevor Partt, a publican seen pulling on the handle of a beer tap at one point, described the sensation of using the device as "very, very close to a real cigarette."

"And if it is harmless, which we're hoping that it is ... it's got to be a brilliant invention," said Partt, who was also selling e-cigarette kits at that time.

'It's the smoking that's so bad'

Carl Phillips gathered a group of health researchers, all of whom were non-smokers, to try out electronic cigarettes. (The National/CBC Archives)

Across the Atlantic and half a continent away, a group of Edmonton public-health researchers was trying e-cigarettes too — at a time when very little was known about what we now would call vaping products.

"Nicotine itself is not a bad thing," said Carl Phillips, a researcher at the University of Alberta who had received a grant from the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company a few years earlier. "It's the smoking that's so bad and that kills people."

Phillips could be seen urging the five others, identified as non-smokers, at a table in an otherwise empty Edmonton pub, to try the vapour devices arrayed before them.

"These products, made in China, have not been put through rigorous clinical trials," Durham cautioned, referring to the e-cigarettes seen being used in the Edmonton pub. "Though some distributors have conducted their own tests."  

The camera showed various designs of electronic cigarettes that were apparently available for purchase in Canada.

A more familiar name

Electronic cigarettes that delivered nicotine in a vapour instead of smoke were already available for purchase in Canada. (The National/CBC Archives)

Vaping products, like those featured in Durham's report, would make frequent appearances in the news in the decade to come as they were adopted by a greater number of users and questions were raised about their impact on users' health, as well as their utility as a smoking cessation tool.

In the fall of 2019, the Associated Press reported on a "vaping-related breathing illness" that had then begun to emerge in the United States when the U.S. Centres for Disease Control released a report entitled Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products.

And in October 2019, according to CBC News, Dr. Robert Reid of the Ottawa Heart Institute said there was little evidence that e-cigarettes helped smokers quit.

"The indications are perhaps 15 to 20 per cent of people may be able to quit using vaping but about 60 to 70 per cent of people continue to smoke and vape at the same time, as opposed to converting to vaping altogether," he said.

Even more recently, CBC News has investigated these products' path to broad distribution in Canada, as well as the policy decisions made in Ottawa along the way.