E-cigarette crackdown sought by City of Hamilton

The City of Hamilton is looking to be among the first in Canada to crack down on the use of e-cigarettes.

Coun. Merulla wants a bylaw that slaps an age limit on who can buy e-cigarettes

The city of Hamilton wants to be the first city in Canada to set its own rules when it comes to who buys e-cigarettes and where they can be smoked. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

The City of Hamilton is looking to crack down on the use of e-cigarettes.

The city’s board of health voted Thursday to ask the province for the power to restrict who buys e-cigarettes and where they can be smoked, among other details.

Health Canada prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. But it lacks the resources to inspect retail stores to see if they’re complying, and local public health officials have no power to do so, said Kevin McDonald, manager of tobacco control with City of Hamilton Public Health. As well, e-cigarette smokers often get them online.

Coun. Sam Merulla wants a bylaw that puts an age limit on who can buy them, what they contain and where they can be smoked.

Under his vision, “wherever you can’t smoke a cigarette, you wouldn’t be able to smoke an e-cigarette,” the Ward 4 councillor said.

“I’m not sure why we’re so far behind. We’re in a reactive mode like we have been with cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes are a $2-billion industry often marketed as a tool to stop smoking. They use a battery-powered cartridge to produce a vapour.

Study says e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking for good

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed rules that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18.  It would also prohibit companies from distributing free samples and selling them in vending machines. It is currently in the midst of a 75-day comment period.

Hamilton will ask the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to discuss giving the city the power to regulate the product, Merulla said.

A recent study conducted by University College London’s epidemiology and public health department in England shows that e-cigarettes help people quit.

Researchers studied nearly 6,000 smokers over five years, and found smokers in the study were 60 per cent more likely to quit for good if they switch to e-cigarettes than if they use nicotine products such as patches, gum or willpower. Cancer Research UK funded the study.

But McDonald has other concerns. E-cigarettes normalize the behaviour of holding a cigarette at a time when youth smoking is at a record low, he said. Also, studies on the impact of the vapour are inconclusive.

Evidence is changing every day, as is the demand for some sort of regulation, he said.

“It’s all evolving in real time, in the last 18 months to two years,” he said.

Merulla contemplated smoking an e-cigarette during Thursday's board of health meeting. There is no rule to stop him, he said. But he wants that to change.

“The precedent has been set where municipalities have asked for [regulatory] power and been granted it,” he said. 


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