Nova Scotia

Proposed ban on flavoured vape products raises concerns among users, industry

Several dozen people told the Nova Scotia Legislature’s law amendments committee Thursday that the government’s effort to reduce youth vaping rates won’t achieve its goal, but will unfairly affect small businesses and adult consumers.

Legislative committee also hears calls for tax system focused on nicotine content

Speakers at the law amendments committee on Thursday said a new tax on vape products should be based on nicotine content, not total product volume. (Marshall Ritzel/Associated Press)

The Nova Scotia Legislature's law amendments committee heard Thursday that the government's effort to reduce youth vaping rates won't achieve its goal, but will unfairly affect small businesses and adult consumers.

The government plans to amend the Smoke-free Places Act and the Tobacco Access Act so they include vape products and it also intends to tax those products. But vape shop owners and users said the proposed tax system, as well as a flavour ban, won't get at what they believe is really driving youth vaping rates in the province.

"If big tobacco designed a vaping control policy framework to advantage themselves, they could not have done better than what Nova Scotia has done," Jody Allen, the general manager of the Vapour Trail chain of stores, told MLAs at Province House.

The ban is scheduled to take effect April 1.

Allen and others argued that rather than banning flavours, the products should be restricted to adult-only vape shops. He and other speakers support a flavour ban on products sold at gas stations and in convenience stores.

As for the proposed tax system, which would see products taxed based on volume, multiple speakers argued instead for a tax based on the nicotine content of a product. Government officials have said the proposed model is based on what's already happening in other jurisdictions.

Mohammed Al-Hamdani, the executive director of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, says the province should cap nicotine levels to make them more in line with what's permitted in the European Union. (Robert Short/CBC)

Sherri Bain, a vape user, noted that single-use pods, which can include nicotine content of 50 mg/ml or more, would see a nominal increase in price from the proposed tax because of how small they are. But larger bottles of vape juice, which commonly come in sizes of 30 millilitres and 60 millilitres, would get much steeper price increases, even if their nicotine content is much lower or non-existent.

Bain and others supported a cap on nicotine content, but said the loss of flavours would drive many former smokers back to cigarettes. Given that flavours account for 90 per cent or more of the business at most vape shops, Allen and others predicted a ban would "wipe out the adult-only vape shops in Nova Scotia."

They argued that the true source of increased youth vaping rates is pod-based vape systems that are small, have very high nicotine content levels and are sold mainly in convenience stores.

"The youth get a nicotine buzz and quickly become addicted," said Allen.

But not all of the speakers opposed the bill.

Support for the flavour ban and taxation

Dr. Gary Ernest, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said he doesn't consider vaping to be an effective method to stop smoking because there are too many long-term unknowns about the practice and because of another key difference between it and traditional cessation products.

"Very often what we see with vaping is people will continue to vape as a substitute," he said.

Ernest said the government needs to do everything it can to reduce youth smoking and vaping rates, including limiting the amounts of nicotine in any product available.

"This sort of work is critical," he told the committee. "It's essential for the future health of everyone in Nova Scotia."

Young people sensitive to price

Mohammed Al-Hamdani, executive director of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, said the government should cap nicotine content at 20 mg/ml, which would be in line with the European Union.

The government's focus needs to be on the pods and the devices that use them, the largest segment in the market, said Al-Hamdani. A survey by his organization of 670 youth and young adults who vape found that of those who used nicotine-based products, the majority used concentrations of 50 mg/ml or higher.

Dr. Gary Ernest, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, says there are too many long-term unknowns with vaping. (CBC)

"Just take a few seconds to think about that. Underage vapers in Nova Scotia vape concentrations of nicotine that are 2½ times more than the legal limit in the European Union," he said.

Al-Hamdani said taxing the products is key to reducing youth vaping rates because the survey also showed that young people are sensitive to the price of the products they buy. He also wants to see a limit on the number of places that can sell the products and for none of those locations to be near schools.

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