Montreal

Vape store owners argue new Quebec law infringes on freedom of speech

A group of more than 20 vape store owners has filed a legal challenge in Quebec Superior Court against the province's new anti-smoking law.

Vendors say law grouping e-cigarettes in with tobacco products goes too far

Dr. Natasha Johnson says that even though there is a perception that vaping and e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, both release toxins, albeit different kinds. (Regis Duvignau /Reuters)

A group of more than 20 vape store owners has filed a legal challenge in Quebec Superior Court against the province's new anti-smoking law.

Under Bill 44, which passed at the end of November, e-cigarettes are considered tobacco and fall under the same regulations.

In the challenge submitted Thursday, the group argues the law unfairly groups their products in with tobacco.

It also limits their ability to advertise and list products on store websites, which according to the owners, infringes on freedom of speech.

The owner of La Vapoterie in Ahuntsic, Alain Blais, said e-cigarette vendors can't even post about vaping on their personal Facebook pages for risk of being fined.

Blais said limiting their ability to advertise won't serve the purpose of discouraging young people from vaping.  

"Our clientele are males between 40 and 60 who have been smoking for years," Blais told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"I never had kids coming into the store and saying, 'Hey, this is cool.' It's not a gateway to tobacco. Tobacco is a gateway to e-cigarettes."

He said the new law has hurt his business and forced him to cut back on staff. 

"We used to have rapidly growing online sales division," he said.

"But since the bill came into effect we haven't had any online sales. Twenty-five per cent of gross sales vanished in one day." 

He said e-cigarette vendors are no longer able to advertise, or even post about vaping on their personal Facebook pages for risk of being fined.​

Changes to the law are unlikely. A spokesperson for Quebec's minister of health pointed out in December that the modifications adopted unanimously in the National Assembly.