Alberta joins other provinces with bill banning youth vaping
EDMONTON -- Alberta is gearing up to match other provinces in applying the same rules to teen vaping as smoking.
The government tabled Tuesday legislation that would see electronic smoking added to its Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, making it illegal for youth to consume, possess or be sold vaping products.
Currently, Alberta teens under the age of 18 are prohibited from the above – but by the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act.
Bill 19’s proposed amendments would see the rules become part of provincial law, enabling enforcement by peace officers while also outlining restrictions on the display, advertisement and promotion of vaping, and expanding smoke and vape-free areas to include hospitals, school or childcare properties, playgrounds, sports and playing fields, skateboard and bike parks, zoos, outdoor theatres and public outdoor pools and splash pads.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said an October 2019 review of the current law “made clear” a need for strong action, and that if it weren’t for the pandemic slowing legislative processes, Bill 19 would have been introduced sooner.
“It is the first legislation in Alberta to address vaping, and it is long overdue.”
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Les Hagen, the executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said his advocacy group was "generally pleased" with the bill and it's alignment of vaping regulations with that of tobacco, but that it an absence of restrictions on flavoured products weakened it.
The proposed amendments would give the health minister power to create an authority to regulate or ban vape flavors.
The government called this a compromised approach balancing the benefits found by adult smokers looking to quit and data that shows flavors make vaping more attractive to young people.
Feedback on flavor restrictions from about 10,000 Albertans and stakeholders was mixed, the government said. Public health interest groups, enforcement agencies and youth reported flavors made vaping more enticing and could lead to dependency. The Health Coalition, which calls for better alignment of vaping rules with that of smoking, considers a ban on flavoured vape products “key” in preventing and reducing youth participation.
“We’re fine with tobacco flavoured vaping products, but when you’re talking about bubble gum and chocolate and banana and cotton candy, you’re talking about flavours that appeal to kids," Hagen said.
However businesses sided with adult smokers and suggested restrictions would drive buyers to the black market.
In the end, 83 per cent of public health interest groups agreed with imposing restrictions, and 86 per cent of both business owners and current vapers disagreed in the government's review.
Shandro added the pandemic was keeping his ministry busy.
“The public health folks who are involved in the review and the drafting of this legislation and who would be involved to be able to develop recommendation for the regulations that involve flavours are the same folks who are spending almost their entire day on battling COVID-19," Shandro said.
"At this time, just with the ban the government has at this time, for our public health folks, I think it’s quite a bit for us to be asking them."
Officials said there was not a clear threshold when such an authority would be created, but that if Bill 19 was made law, the government would be watching its impact.
THE OUTLIER AMONGST CANADIAN PROVINCES
According to government data, the amount of Alberta teens in Grades 10 through 12 who reported having vaped in the last month rose from eight per cent in 2014-15 to 30 per cent in 2018-19.
While the Alberta government acknowledges evidence showing vaping can result in lung damage, nicotine poisoning and addiction, it became the only province without a youth vaping ban when Saskatchewan changed its legislation in November.
Alberta, too, is moving slower than other provinces that have begun to implement stricter regulations for nicotine concentration.
“With the federal limit at 66 (milligrams per millilitre) at this time, we didn’t see a need for a further reduction here in Alberta,” Shandro commented.
“I think there’s lots of opportunities for there to be different products to be available to whether it’s the adults who are trying to cease smoking, or if it’s an adult who’s making a choice for themselves.”
Most recently, Nova Scotia approved a new regulatory cap on e-liquids and cigarettes making it the first province to adopt a maximum nicotine concentration of 20 milligrams per millilitre.
B.C. and Ontario have had similar discussions.
- READ MORE: Nova Scotia sets tough maximum nicotine level for vaping products
- READ MORE: New vaping promotion ban comes into effect in Ontario on Wednesday
With files from CTVNews.ca