Province proposes licences for vape shops to curb youth vaping
Measures stop short of the flavour ban being imposed in neighbouring provinces
An industry group is pleased with proposed changes to New Brunswick's vaping regulations, but a health promotion group says they don't go far enough.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard introduced amendments to the Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Sales Act last week that would require vape shops to be licensed starting next spring.
There are about 40 vape shops in the province, according to the provincial government, and licences would cost about $100.
Fees from the licences would be used on public education campaigns against substance use.
"Most tobacco use begins during adolescence," said Shephard, "so actions to protect young people from a lifetime of nicotine addiction are critical."
According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, one in five Canadian students in Grades 7 to 12 vapes and 34 per cent report have tried it.
The New Brunswick Lung Association agrees that too many young people have been taking up vaping.
A recent survey found the average New Brunswick vaper had started at age 15, said Barbara Walls, the group's director of health initiatives.
That's despite the fact the New Brunswick government banned the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19 back in 2016.
The sale of flavoured tobacco products was also banned at that time.
But so far, there's no indication the province plans to ban flavoured vape juice.
That's one of the things the lung association is calling for.
"Children and young people would probably much prefer something that tastes like candy than something that is just kind of disgusting tasting," said Walls. "It's just common sense."
Walls also called for the province to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes or vaping products to 21.
The survey to which Walls referred was part of the 2020-2021 Youth and Young Adult Vaping Project's New Brunswick findings.
It also found 92 per cent of respondents aged 16 to 24 said they had been encouraged to try vaping because of the flavour, she said.
And 52 per cent said they probably would not vape if flavoured products weren't for sale.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Vaping Association says a lot of adults also want flavoured products.
"I think this might be shocking to everyone, but adults like flavours as well," said Darryl Tempest, the group's executive director and lead advocate.
Ninety per cent of products sold to adults are flavoured, he said.
Tempest feels the New Brunswick government proposal is on the right track because it introduces some controls to prevent young people who've never smoked from becoming vapers.
"If you do not smoke, you should not vape," he said.
He's glad it doesn't include a ban on flavours because he said that would drive the vape market underground.
Regardless of the rules in Canadian provinces, said Tempest, it's still possible to buy illicit products "offshore" with no age requirements and more harmful ingredients.
The licensed-shop model has been successful in Ontario, he said, as a way to restrict access to adults only and to keep flavoured and high-nicotine products out of convenience stores.
Tempest said e-cigarettes are an important "harm reduction" tool to quit smoking.
"What you need to be successful should be available to you as an adult to get off the nation's largest killer."
He's also pleased to see the province plans to channel licensing fees into education spending.
Tempest suggested education is already working to reduce youth vaping rates.
But according to the latest Statistics Canada data, the rates were about the same in 2020 as they were in 2019.
Last fall's Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey found 13 to 14 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds had vaped in the previous 30 days.
Walls said as a nurse with 35 years of experience, including in addictions, she adamantly rejects the idea that adults need flavoured vape juice to quit smoking. In fact, she doesn't support the use of any kind of nicotine replacement method.
As an alternative, she favours the creation of support groups for former smokers, modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous.
Walls allowed that vape juice may be less harmful than cigarettes but said it's still bad for you.
"We're not meant to inhale anything other than oxygen into our lungs," she said, noting that vape liquid contains preservatives, and things that have been added to create the appearance of smoke and to make the liquid combustible.
A thoracic surgeon at the Moncton Hospital agrees.
Dr. Joseph Ojah spoke out about vaping last year after he began to see related lung illness in his patients.
"The long-term physical and structural damaging effects on fragile lung tissue are not yet fully understood," he wrote in an article published by the Horizon Health Network.
Ojah noted that vaping involves the inhalation of "aerosolized chemicals, ultra-fine particles, volatile compounds, heavy metals and other harmful materials, including highly addictive nicotine, which all have serious detrimental effects."
At the time, he called for education and legislation. He hasn't yet responded to a request from CBC News for comment on the government's proposed measures.
Neighbouring provinces are imposing tougher restrictions. P.E.I. and Nova Scotia have banned flavoured e-cigarettes. Quebec is expected to do the same. Ontario, B.C. and Saskatchewan have restricted their sale to specialty shops.
The government of Canada is also looking at possible restrictions on flavoured vaping products, as well as limiting the nicotine concentration to 20 mg/ml, and making the industry give more information about their products.
Asked why the New Brunswick government is not banning flavours or raising the smoking age, Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email that work will continue with MLAs "to enact further legislation if needed."
"We know there is more work to be done."
Macfarlane noted that the province's Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Sales Act prohibits the advertisement or promotion of e-cigarettes in convenience stores or anywhere youth are permitted.
He said anyone who sees that happening can call their local office of Justice and Public Safety.
With files from Information Morning Saint John