North

Nunavut to consider tighter vaping regulations

Nunavut's chief medical officer says the territory may amend its Tobacco Control Act to target the way vaping products are marketed and sold.

Vaping products came on market before regulations ready for them, Nunavut's chief medical officer says

A file photo of vaping devices. The Nunavut government is going to start consultations to amend its Tobacco Control Act, to tighten regulations around vaping. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press)

The Nunavut government is considering changing the territory's Tobacco Control Act, to help prevent vaping in general, but especially among young people. 

Nunavut's chief medical officer says it's widely believed that vape pens and e-cigarettes came on the market before regulations were ready for them. 

"The thing with vaping is — we can't say that it's safe," said Dr. Michael Patterson. "We can say that it's less risky than cigarettes, but how much, what the difference is in the risk is right now, is really hard to say for sure."

Vaping products were originally conceived of as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes, and as a way to wean off smoking altogether. 

There is evidence that "proper, judicious use of vaping" can help some people quit smoking, Patterson says. 

But he says people should only turn to vaping after they've tried the patch and smoking cessation medications, which he says have years of research bolstering their effectiveness and safety.

The government of Nunavut's Tobacco Control Act currently only regulates where people can vape. (David Gunn/CBC)

Patterson said vaping doesn't have that research backing its safety and effectiveness. And now that it's widely available on the market, it is easing access for others to become addicted to nicotine, he says.

"More than one researcher has criticized what happened in North America as creating a whole new generation of people addicted to nicotine," Patterson said.

There are also stories out of the U.S. and Ontario of people getting sick and dying from complications from vaping.

Protecting Nunavummiut

Now, the government of Nunavut is working to prevent that from happening. While vaping products are available for sale across the territory, Patterson says rates of vaping aren't as high because it's new in the North, and smoking cigarettes is still relatively normalized.

Currently, territorial regulations only dictate where people can vape. Patterson says consultations will start soon to amend the Tobacco Control Act to put stricter restrictions on vaping.

He doesn't know what those will look like yet, but says they will likely be the same as tobacco regulations, which ban flavoured tobacco, advertising, and flashy packages — things that make vaping more enticing to young people.

Patterson says he has "heard anecdotes here and there of children under 18" being able to buy vape products directly from retailers. 

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief medical officer, says that it's widely believed that vaping products became widely available on the market before regulations were ready for them. (CBC)

He said it may be that some of the staff aren't aware that vaping is covered under the same federal laws and regulations that surround the sale of tobacco.

"In the eyes of the law, selling cigarettes versus selling vaping to a 15-year-old is the same. It's illegal," Patterson said.

Other jurisdictions are taking a closer look at regulations surrounding vaping. Nova Scotia's health minister recently described it as an "area of interest" for the province. Eight Canadian health organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Lung Association, have appealed for tighter regulation of the vaping industry.

In addition to bringing awareness to vendors about the laws around selling vaping products, Patterson says the government of Nunavut will continue to educate the public about the dangers of becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping, and it will continue to promote using a nicotine patch as a safe way to quit smoking cigarettes, instead of vaping.

Patterson says consultations to amend the Tobacco Control Act will start soon, but he doesn't expect the regulations will change until next year.

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