Kitchener-Waterloo

University of Waterloo in Ontario part of global study on impact of e-cigarette rules

The University of Waterloo will be part of a five-year study on e-cigarettes to determine the impact of regulations in different parts of the world.

Ontario university team will work with other schools to study regulations in 7 countries

The University of Waterloo is part of a study on e-cigarette regulations in various countries. The research will be conducted over the next five years. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

The University of Waterloo will take part in a five-year study on e-cigarettes to determine the impact of regulations in different parts of the world. 

"It's extraordinarily important for us to understand the factors that are driving people to smoke, and what we can do through policies and regulations to reduce that amount globally," said Geoffrey Fong, a professor of psychology and public health at the Ontario university. 

The news comes after New Zealand announced it will outlaw smoking for its next generation. People 14 and under will never be able to legally buy tobacco. 

Fong has already been studying e-cigarettes and their relationship with regular cigarettes, through the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project. 

"What a lot of governments are trying to figure out right now is how to regulate these new products, e-cigarettes and the even newer heated tobacco product," said Fong. 

"There really isn't that much evidence out there on the impact of possible policies and regulations."

The study will cost $10 million and is funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

It will look at seven different countries: the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Each country has different regulations. In Australia, e-cigarettes are illegal, while in the United Kingdom, e-cigarettes are promoted as a way to quit smoking. 

The study will look at the seven countries' regulations and examine the effectiveness of the methods used. In Canada, the federal government has proposed a ban on all flavours except for tobacco and menthol, but hasn't reached a final decision.

There are currently health warnings on vape products and restrictions on advertising the products. Individual provinces have put their own restrictions in place as well, such as a ban on flavoured vaping products in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. 

Geoffrey Fong, a University of Waterloo professor of psychology and public health, says e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, but that's only part of the picture. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Helpful or harmful?

The study will also include a survey of young people in Canada, the U.S. and England about smoking and vaping. 

Fong said part of the research will look at if e-cigarettes are a public health benefit or if it's harmful, or if it's a bit of both.

"Even though e-cigarettes are not harmless, they are significantly less harmful, so that's a starting point for the possibility that e-cigarettes would be helpful if smokers could only switch to them," Fong said. 

But he said the challenge is determining if young people would start vaping, without ever having smoked before. 

"The challenge for governments in trying to regulate these products is, how do you strike a balance if a balance can be struck, between supporting smokers … versus youth who may become addicted to nicotine through vaping products?"

Fong said the research will look at that, as well as at people who both vape and smoke, and who return to smoking regular cigarettes after making the switch.

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