Reasonable Doubt: B.C.’s proposed e-cigarette legislation addresses harms that don’t exist

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      Recently, the provincial government proposed e-cigarette legislation that will see e-cigarettes lumped under the Tobacco Control Act. In addition to limiting how e-cigarettes are displayed and sold, the new law would prohibit adults from vaping in a vehicle with children present.

      According to Terry Lake, B.C.’s Minister of Health, the impetus behind the legislation is to protect young people from potential harm. While acknowledging that there is a lack of information on what—if any—harm is caused by vaping e-cigarettes, Minister Lake rationalizes the government’s proposal on the basis that vaping “may serve as a gateway to smoking”.

      However, in their fervour to protect the children from, well, potentially nothing, federal, provincial, and municipal governments are regulating vaping in an overly restrictive and counter-productive manner.

      Smoking and tobacco use has been linked to cancer, heart disease, strokes, and a host of other serious and often fatal conditions. Second-hand cigarette smoke has also been proven to pose a risk to others. It was decades before governments acknowledged that smoking was dangerous and needed to be regulated. Over the years, more regulations on smoking have been put into place to address harms as they become known.   

      All levels of government currently regulate the sale and use of tobacco products to some degree. Federal legislation regulates importation, labelling, and advertising of tobacco products. It is federal legislation that requires pictures of diseased lungs to be placed on the outside of cigarette packages and prohibits tobacco companies from running ads with cartoon characters smoking on Saturday morning T.V.

      Provincial legislation sets out where and to whom tobacco products can be sold, how they may be displayed, and prohibits smoking in certain places within the province’s jurisdiction (schools, workplaces, et cetera).

      Municipal bylaws can restrict smoking in public places. Vancouver has already banned vaping in the same way it bans smoking in or near businesses, on public transit, or at bus stops.

      Perhaps afraid of the mistakes of previous governments that failed to act quickly enough in regulating cigarette smoking, governments are now moving to regulate e-cigarettes in exactly the same manner. Law-makers voice concern that children are going to start smoking, or otherwise become addicted to nicotine, because e-cigarettes remain unregulated. Their rationale in treating e-cigarettes the same as tobacco products, however, is flawed: e-cigarettes simply don’t pose the same risk as tobacco products do.

      Just days after the B.C. government presented the bill for first reading, on March 10, 2015, the House of Commons’ national health committee (the “Committee”) presented a report recommending against treating vaping the same as smoking. Based on the evidence it heard, the Committee found that e-cigarettes are unique and different from tobacco products and should have their own regulations. 

      In short, the Committee found widespread agreement that nicotine is addictive, but that e-cigarettes are far, far less harmful to one’s health than smoking tobacco, and there is very little evidence regarding the harm—if any—that may come from second-hand vapour. The Committee acknowledged the competing interests involved: on the one hand, e-cigarettes are a viable way to help millions of Canadians stop smoking; on the other hand, e-cigarettes may re-normalize smoking or get otherwise non-smokers hooked on nicotine.

      While the addictive nature of nicotine was accepted by the Committee, evidence was heard that nicotine addictions are “relatively benign” and comparable to a caffeine addiction. (Note that there are no laws stopping a six year-old from getting hopped up on a double-shot macchiato at Starbucks.)


      Not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, and Health Canada has already banned the importation or sale of any e-juice containing nicotine.  Despite this prohibition, keeping it out of stores isn’t going so well: e-juice with nicotine is being sold widely across Canada. Importation regulations aren’t going to be the answer to nicotine addictions.

      But governments aren’t just concerned that children will start vaping; they are concerned that it will lead children—and non-smokers generally—to smoking tobacco products. However, the evidence does not supporting this fear: e-cigarettes have been around since as early as 2007, and, according to Health Canada, cigarette use amongst teenagers is continuing to decline

      It could equally be argued that vaping is just leading to vaping. Relying on an unfounded “gateway” fear as a basis for treating e-cigarettes like tobacco may be a bit short sighted. In its report, the Committee cited evidence from Dr. John Britton, who agreed that it would be a good thing to limit e-cigarette access to young people, but he argued that “if we have young people who are otherwise going to smoke, it would make far more sense to have them use an electronic cigarette.”

      Further, the Committee noted that if vaping was less regulated and more accessible, it may be more appealing to existing, adult smokers who are trying to quit. The Committee’s report cited evidence that a number of smokers switch to electronic cigarettes because they can use the products indoors. The evidence was that second-hand vape poses no real occupational hazard to air quality, and that to prohibit indoor vaping would result in sending ex-smokers outside to breathe second-hand smoke. The tone of the Committee’s report was that there may be a public health benefit to make vaping more accessible and appealing than smoking. 

      Nonetheless, vaping is not a harmless activity and there are good policy reasons to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes to children. (Regardless of whether or not nicotine is better or worse than caffeine, I don’t want to see a six year-old vaping any more than I want to see a six year-old sucking back an Americano). Regulatory schemes, however, are not “one size fits all”. We regulate alcohol differently than we regulate cigarettes because they pose different risks. E-cigarettes pose different risks than tobacco products, and it does not make sense to regulate them in the same way. 

      Governments should consider the recommendations in the Committee’s report and critically evaluate if tobacco regulations are suitable for e-cigarettes. 

      Carmen Hamilton is a lawyer practising in Vancouver. Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.




      Mar 20, 2015 at 2:13pm

      Carmen, you are very talented to be able to write something that you cant possibly believe. It is too early to know how harmful e-cigs are. Secondly, the Committee has their collective head up their a@s. Theyre influenced by lobbyists with very deep pockets.

      Darth Vaper

      Mar 20, 2015 at 2:57pm

      From my perspective there's three reasons to enact such legislation:

      1) As the previous commenter said, it's too early to know the full details of the harm. Why not err on the side of caution?
      2) It avoids some kid making $10/hour working at McDonalds from having to engage in an argument with a customer like this.

      "I'm sorry sir, you can't smoke here."
      "This isn't smoking. It's a vaping."

      3) Ever sat next to someone vaping? It's as annoying as sitting next to somebody smoking.


      Mar 20, 2015 at 9:18pm

      Nicotine is neurotoxic, and, for the lawyer writing the column, look up the term "nuisance." Any smoke, offensive smell, etc. that disturbs someone's quiet enjoyment is a "nuisance", and, in point of law, may be abated using all necessary force.


      Mar 21, 2015 at 12:53am

      "It is too early to know how harmful e-cigs are" -- wait a second, we have NO evidence that e-cigs are harmful AT ALL, let alone how "harmful".

      And how does banning a product that is orders of magnitude LESS harmful than cigarettes amount to erring on the side of caution? That makes no sense.

      If McDonald's (or any other business) wants to ban vaping, let them do it. I can't bring my Starbuck's coffee into a movie theatre, but I can decide which one I want more, my coffee or a movie. Let businesses and me decide what I want, not the government.

      Etiquette is not a health issue.

      john listerio

      Mar 21, 2015 at 6:55am

      EPA & FDA: Vapor Harmless to Children

      April 3, 2014 matt black

      In the continued war on e-cigarettes, we hear about the “potential dangers” of e-cigarette vapor and the “unknown public health risks.”

      First, I find it absolutely absurd that we’re attempting to pass laws based on unknowns, but what makes it even more absurd is the fact that there’s very little that isn’t known about e-cigarette vapor at this point. The primary ingredient of concern to those who wish to see e-cigarettes banned is the propylene glycol vapor, which has been studied for over 70 years.

      I recently came across a document titled, “Reregistration Eligibility Decision For Propylene Glycol and Dipropylene Glycol“, which was created by the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

      Catchy title. I was intrigued.

      This quote caught my eye:

      Propylene glycol and dipropylene glycol were first registered in 1950 and 1959, respectively, by the FDA for use in hospitals as air disinfectants. (page 4, paragraph 1).

      In a previous post, I had shared the summary of research that had been done in 1942 by Dr. Robertson regarding the antibacterial properties of vaporized propylene glycol, but I had never heard that the FDA wound up approving it for the purpose of an air disinfectant in hospitals.

      Indoor Non-Food: Propylene glycol is used on the following use sites: air treatment (eating establishments, hospital, commercial, institutional, household, bathroom, transportational facilities); medical premises and equipment, commercial, institutional and industrial premises and equipment; (page 6, paragraph 2)


      Method and Rates of Application


      Air Sanitizer

      Read the directions included with the automatic dispenser for proper installation of unit and refill. Remove cap from aerosol can and place in a sequential aerosol dispenser which automatically releases a metered amount every 15 minutes. One unit should treat 6000 ft of closed air space… For regular, non-metered applications, spray room until a light fog forms. To sanitize the air, spray 6 to 8 seconds in an average size room (10'x10'). (page 6, paragraph 6)

      A common argument used to support the public usage ban is that, “Minnesotans have become accustomed to the standard of clean indoor air.” However, according to the EPA and FDA, so long as there’s a “light fog” of propylene glycol vapor in the air, the air is actually


      Mar 21, 2015 at 10:01am

      When these officials hold people idling diesel vehicles to the same standard I'll take their concerns seriously. I hear people all the time complaining about smokers and vapours, but not saying a word about the clouds of proven poisonous vapours drivers are allowed to pour into our streets.
      As for those here who are complaining about people vaping next to them. You cannot smell the vapours from their vaporizers, no matter how much you think you can! And no, its is not nearly as annoying as sitting next to someone burning tobacco or leaving their diesel engine idling.

      Ray PG Yeates

      Mar 21, 2015 at 10:38pm

      Thank you Carmen for this sensible article. The HESA report's recommendations are suggested based upon parties directly involved on both sides of the debate. Those individuals, many from within health and tobacco control assessed both sides of the issue while fortunately not excluding the potential of harm reduction. 37.000 Canadians die each year due to tobacco related illnesses and disease . Globally over 6.000.000 or 16.000 everyday. Smoking has been deemed the most preventable cause of death than any other world wide based on the science and facts of what is know about smoking tobacco. This knowledge alone warrants sensible non biased scrutiny based on the same science and facts in comparison to smoke vs vapor. Note John Listerio's research on Propylene Glycol itself. Note the benefits to it's use in many forms of use and consumption. It is this quality of research from many others concerned for their own health which brought forth the research on these ingenious devices. Re: Kellie Forbes BScN RN *Vaping The Truth* ( nurse from Alberta) -"there does not appear to be enough data to provide conclusive evidence either way on the health risks or benefits" there are over 2000 published articles on vaping "few studies done in Canada" true but many from Britain, USA and Europe; science is universal
      -"Some groups feel ...glamorizes smoking behaviour that will lead to more youth taking up smoking" some people "feeling" something is not fact; the statistics say that where vaping is increasing smoking is declining at higher rates than seen before; also nicotine on its own is 3x less addictive than tobacco -"EC in Canada is relatively new" earlier he states been here since 2007, that's 8 years; globally since 2003
      -'lack of evidence around their safety & efficacy" 2000 published articles...
      - "Health Canada has not approved them" Health Canada has approved tobacco cigarettes which kill 2 out of 3 users when used as directed, has caused chronic diseases in approx. 1.1 million Canadians.
      As HESA reports and recommends; consultation MUST include those stakeholders directly affected by smoking tobacco but now vaping. Nicotine on it's own has also proven to have health benefits. ie: Google nicotine patch epilepsy and watch the case out of Florida Nicotine patch ends seizures for 5-year-old girl . An open- unbiased mind is even more miraculous than these devices.

      Geoff Cliff

      Mar 22, 2015 at 3:54am

      When I have a chance to put my case to politicians and 'health' authorities, I make this simple statement:- "I have successfully quit smoking after 50 years by switching to electronic cigarettes. If there is any truth at all in anti-smoking rhetoric, I may thus have prolonged my life. Would you then take any action that might dissuade another smoker from following my example? If no, then you must not take that action. If yes, then you are not fit to hold public office!" There is nothing else that needs to be said!

      Vladimir Poutine

      Mar 23, 2015 at 10:04am

      I quit the BAD HABIT of Smoking a little over One Year Ago, thanks to e-cigarettes (ego, re-fillable type)and Nicotine e-juice. Even my Doctor noticed the difference ! Lower Blood pressure, breathing, etc. The money I save pays for my 2 week holiday in Cuba every year, and still some Ca$h left over!


      Mar 23, 2015 at 6:31pm

      Always makes me laugh that you can get a ticket for tabacco use,but it's perfectly ok to smoke pot,crack,meth or shoot up heroin on the sidewalk.