E-cigarette controversy ignites with talk of ban at Vancouver Coastal Health facilities

Rob Palacol quit smoking about a month ago. Since then, he’s been looking for the “perfect chocolate” flavour for his nicotine puff.


Have you tried electronic cigarettes?

Yes 42%
39 votes
No 55%
51 votes
Rather not say 2%
2 votes

That would be a bit confusing if you didn’t know that the entrepreneur has switched to electronic cigarettes. These are battery-powered cylindrical devices that turn either a nicotine or non-nicotine solution into vapour when a user takes a pull.

On a Saturday morning at the Vancouver Flea Market on Terminal Avenue, where Palacol sells surplus military items, he had brought a chocolate-hazelnut flavoured nicotine mix.

“It was easy because I still had the motions,” Palacol told the Georgia Straight about how e-cigarettes helped him quit. “I still had to pick it up, hold it like a regular cigarette, and a lot of that was habit. I needed something that simulated a real cigarette. I don’t even have to think about it anymore.”

Instead of smoking, the Winnipeg-born and Saskatoon-raised man is now “vaping”. With a tip that glows, e-cigarettes work like the real thing but without the smoke.

He said that they’re also cheaper. A 10-millilitre bottle of flavoured nicotine solution costs about $10. It’s equivalent to 10 packs of regular cigarettes, according to Palacol.

Palacol got his first e-cigarette from a Vancouver store in a purchase that Health Canada doesn’t consider to be compliant with the Food and Drugs Act.

In a 2009 advisory, the federal health agency stated that electronic smoking products, which include nicotine mixes, “may pose health risks and have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality, and efficacy”.

Vancouver Coastal Health has also taken notice of e-cigarettes.

“This is becoming a huge topic as more and more youth increase their consumption of e-cigarettes,” medical health officer Dr. Meena Dawar told the Straight in a phone interview on January 10.

The province’s largest health authority is poised to ban e-cigarettes from hospitals, community health centres, and its other premises, according to Dawar.

“What that means is just as you cannot smoke on a health authority property, you cannot use e-cigarettes as well,” she said, adding that the new policy is making its way through approval phases.

Dawar also said that Vancouver Coastal Health will be talking to school districts to encourage them to include e-cigarettes in their antismoking policy.

She added that the health authority will likewise “recommend both to the province and to municipalities that e-cigarettes need to be regulated”.

“Currently, they can be used anywhere in public spaces, and that is a concern because it can renormalize smoking behaviour for children,” Dawar noted.

According to Health Canada, tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, and more than 70 of these are carcinogens.

Carl Phillips, a former associate professor at the University of Alberta, has argued that there is a potential for tobacco harm reduction through smokeless nicotine products like moist snuff.

Phillips, who has received funding from the tobacco industry, noted in a paper he coauthored and titled “Smokeless Tobacco: the Epidemiology and Politics of Harm” that nicotine can be obtained without combustion by means he claimed are 99 percent safer than smoking.

In notes for another paper, Phillips and coauthors pointed out that in addition to its recreational use, nicotine provides relief to people who suffer from conditions like depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorders.

Some of these benefits are similar to those derived from caffeine, the authors noted.

The Straight asked Vancouver Coastal Health’s Dawar about tobacco harm reduction.

“That’s very interesting because, obviously, the proponents of e-cigarettes would say these are safer alternatives to cigarettes, and that is true,” Dawar responded. “They are a safer alternative to cigarettes for smokers. We just want to be clear about that: that for smokers they are a safer alternative.”

But e-cigarettes are not completely harmlesss, Dawar said. She noted that they contain propylene glycol, a respiratory irritant. “Secondhand vapour is documented to contain nicotine and propylene glycol and traces of heavy metals,” the doctor added.

According to Dawar, Health Canada allows the sale of e-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine.

Grant Jonasson has been in the e-cigarette business since 2009. He said that a starter kit, which contains an e-cigarette and accessories, costs, on average, $80.

Jonasson also related that he sometimes makes deliveries to hospitals, where patients use the device indoors.

“Some of them can’t get out because they’re hooked up to all these machines, and the [nicotine] gum and the patch isn’t working for them, and they’re going crazy,” Jonasson told the Straight in an interview at the Vancouver Flea Market, where he sells e-cigarettes on weekends.

The IT professional suggested that one reason why the government hasn’t allowed the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine is that it’s still looking at how to recover taxes that will be lost if people turn from tobacco to this alternative.

Jonasson noted that the government is collecting more money from tobacco than it spends on health-care costs related to tobacco-smoking.

In 2002, tobacco use resulted in $4.4 billion in direct health-care costs, according to the Canadian Lung Association.

Based on figures compiled by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the federal and provincial governments collected $7 billion in taxes from tobacco sales in 2002-2003. In the preceding fiscal year, it was $5 billion.

The City of Vancouver hasn’t received complaints about e-cigarettes so far, according to Coun. Kerry Jang.

Although the city hasn’t banned e-cigarettes, it will be consulting Vancouver Coastal Health on what to do, Jang added.

“What we’re seeing is when people use one, often because they look exactly like a cigarette, people say to them, ‘Hey, this is a nonsmoking place,’ and people comply,” Jang told the Straight in a phone interview.

As for Palacol, he has found a new business opportunity. He’s starting to sell e-cigarettes online.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
quit smoking with an e-cig last year
While they are not without some risk I feel they are safer than burning tobacco. I was a pack a day smoker for 20 years and none of the "approved methods" worked for me. Zyban made me extremely forgetful (and as an RN that scared the crap out of me) and Champix drove me into a dark, suicidal ideation hell. The patch = nightmares and nausea at 21mg and terrible cravings and irritability at 14mg. The gum, spray and inhaler all caused canker sores and bad oral irritation. So having stopped smoking with the ecig and consequently dropping my nicotine levels over the last year I am happy to report my health and respiratory status have improved. My GP approves of my using this. There are many misconceptions and much misinformation about electronic cigarettes and safety. Often studies quoted by those against them are out of date or flawed scientifically. There is a moral panic amongst the anti smoking lobby because it does look similar to smoking. The excuse that candy flavours are aimed at children is weak at best. You can buy fruit flavoured nicorette and vodka too. As for propylene glycol being harmful, it is in many products we use daily including food flavourings and ventolin inhalers (not to mention the nicorette quick mist). Follow the money. Cig taxes are high, fewer smokers = less money in the pot. Big pharma's profits are threatened and as they fund various anti smoking lobby groups, their funding too becomes threatened. Why wouldn't our system want smokers to have healthier alternatives? Ah yes. Money.
Rating: +21
The anti-smoking crowd lost its collective mind when they lobbied for a ban on cigarette smoking in places where the possibility of second-hand smoke damage to bystanders was something less than zero.

Their mental issues continue to be evident with the latest focus on e-cigarettes. It's as if the public drinking of water should be banned, because water looks like vodka and gin, and hey - kids could be sucked into the alcohol vortex.

It will be interesting to see how the zealots respond if Canada or BC follow the lead of Colorado and Washington, and "legalize" pot smoking. OMG, I smell funny smoke in the air! Run, run!!

Rating: +31
CAVR or Canadians Advocating Vapers Rights a national origination will respond to the Health Canada suggestion were electronic cigarettes in Canada are illegal or banned if they contain nicotine.

Let us be clear there is no ban in Canada regardless if they contain Nicotine or not. Let me advise that electronic cigarettes do fall under the Food and Drug act of Canada, however under Schedule F section D of that act they are exempt as an inhalation device since the dosage of each puff is less then 4 mg of nicotine.

Market authorization is not legally required as electronic cigarettes are a quit smoking unit; and are not a medicine as defined by Health Canada. E-liquid falls under the CCCR-2001 and as long as it meet those requirements, there is no ban in Canada, and there never was.
Rating: -3
Correction: ( the comment from CAVR) should state: Electronic cigarettes are NOT a quit smoking unit therefore market authorization does NOT apply) Sorry for the error.
Rating: -6
OMG! Vancouver - the home of moral policing, by the definition of the powers that be. All medical & "govt" bodies, orgs, etc. insist that people must quit smoking. But for so many people, the current "Pharmaceutical solutions" simply don't work. The part that many, particularly the virulent anti-smoking citizens' groups, don't seem to understand at all is that smoking is a real Addiction - harder to stop for some than cocaine or heroin (studies have shown).
But when the E-Cigarette seems to be a useful tool in the kit to help smokers stop, idiots in Health Canada & Purist BC jump up and down screaming that it must be outlawed. Next, smokers of any kind will be hunted with drones, while the gross pollution pouring out around freeways, city streets, oil sands projects and ocean tanker & cruise ships is completely ignored.
Rating: +12
Thanks for the story on this "e-cigarette". All this time thought it had a USB outlet on the filter end to plug into a computer for the machine to enjoy some nicotine high. But seriously, wouldn't such "e-cigarettes" be a gateway mechanism to other devices such as "e-crack pipes" and such? Maybe a slippery slope?
Rating: -18
re: AC
While there are specialized devices similar to e cigarettes for vapourizing pot, they are not quite the same design as those used to "vape" eliquids. I am not certain but I believe you need to use a cannabis wax or resin and a special atomizer. With marijuana it's understandable why some folks would opt for vapour over combustion (coughing from smoke when you have chronic pain really does hurt). I seriously doubt crack users are going to start vapourizing crack. I can't even imagine how you can vapoize a lump of crack without seriously modifying the drug or the delivery method. It may be presumptive but most crack users probably wouldn't be willing to shell out the money for a device like that anyway, let alone modify gear and the drug itself to use it. With cigarette smokers, often the up front investment in your supplies seems prohibitive. At least until you've started saving cash that would otherwise be spent on tobacco. I don't see the slope being all that slippery.
Rating: 0
Paul in Toronto
I recently returned from a vacation and resolved to stop smoking when I got back. I am 23 and have been smoking constantly for about 5 years. Infact, I had not gone more than maybe 12 hours without smoking since I began. Quitting smoking terrified me, but I knew that it was necessary.

I bought an e-cigarette with the low nicotine dose this past sunday, hoping it could help me.

I honestly cannot beleive that I am now on day 4 without a tobacco cigarette. I can honestly say I will never smoke another. With the e-cig quitting is actually EASY. Im not irritable, I dont crave, and I feel great about myself.

I completely agree that the ANTI-E-CIGARETTE lobby is motivated by the pharma companies worried about all of the money they have sunk into the "approved methods".
Rating: +6
bob b
purchased mine from eeecig.com five weeks ago, no cigarettes since and feeling confidant I have had my last
Rating: +6
If they reduce the amount of pollution in terms of cigarette butts on the ground smoke in the air, they are fine by me.
Rating: -2
Sherry B
My husband and I, both in our fifties, were lifelong smokers. I smoked for almost 40 years. Jan 13th marked our one year anniversary of quitting with the use of e-cigarettes. We actually vape very little, but it's there if we need it. No Other method even comes close to the effectiveness of these gadgets. We're using the Evo (510) batteries with Vision Vivi Nova tanks. Worth a try if you'd like to quit smoking instantly, painlessly, and with no withdrawals.
Rating: +7
Oh VCH !!!

You set up insite/safe injection site, defending it in court even- and other pilot projects related to alcohol and cocaine addiction, for "SAFER ALTERNATIVES".

E-cigs though, are apparently a far too much of a great evil.

This is just absurd and hypocritical to an extreme.
In fact, it does not make sense in the least.
Rating: +5
Alan C
“Secondhand vapour is documented to contain nicotine and propylene glycol and traces of heavy metals,” the doctor added.

Technically true, but by omitting the words "trace amounts" this is functionally a lie. It is inconceivable that anyone could be harmed by second hand vapour, and there exists no evidence that this has ever happened.

"that is a concern because it can renormalize smoking behaviour for children,”

Ah. So it isn't about health. It's about morality.

The obdurate attitudes expressed by "Public Health" and Tobacco Control advocates are bringing our profession into disrepute.

Rating: 0
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