More people are inhaling from e-cigarettes, three businesses that promote “vaping” have sprung up in Maple Ridge, and governments across Canada, are struggling to create rules around this new way of smoking.
In November, the government of Ontario banned the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19, and prohibits their use wherever tobacco smoking is not allowed.
In October, the City of Vancouver took the same measures, joining a small group of municipalities that have put some regulation on e-cigarettes – Red Deer, Alberta; York regional district in Ontario; and Maple Ridge.
The latter was among the first municipalities to put regulations on e-cigarettes.
For all of the concerns, vaping is expanding like a smoke ring worldwide. The Oxford Dictionary chose “vape” as the word of the year for 2014, saying you are 30 times more likely to encounter the word vape than you were two years ago. The UK’s first vape cafe opened its doors in April.
Some people who try it become vape enthusiasts, like Dave Springman, the proprietor of Haney Vape. He’s a mechanic by trade who kicked a pack-and-a-half-a-day habit of 38 years when he quit tobacco and took up vaping. Now he works behind a shop counter filled with electronic “pen” style e-cigarettes and rows of small flavoured bottles – every flavor from cotton candy to Export A.
He’s been in business for 10 months.
Springman explains what vaping is: Whether shaped like a pen, a pipe or a cigar, the device is mostly a rechargeable battery and a juice reservoir. An electric charge turns the juice to vapor as the smoker inhales.
In his shop, the devices range in price from $30 to $199.
The juices are made up of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavouring and, in some cases, nicotine.
Springman is not legally allowed to promote his product as a healthier alternative to smoking. However, he notes that people who are trying to quit smoking tobacco find that vaping gives them the familiar burn they crave – a “throat hit,” that the patch and smoking cessation aids do not.
And he said vaping is a far more affordable alternative to smoking tobacco. He sells a bottle for $10, or three for $25. Each bottle is the equivalent to approximately five packages of cigarettes, he said.
A person who would spend $350 per month on tobacco would spend $50 per month on e-juice, he claims.
Springman doesn’t sell e-cigarettes – the plastic version of the traditional “smoke,” which generally retails for about $10.99 at corner stores and gas stations. They cannot be refilled or recharged, he notes.
“They’re expensive, for what they are, and they mimic smoking,” he said.
And he will not sell to a minor – as with a tobacco product.
He agrees people should not be allowed to vape anywhere they want.
“I wouldn’t want the person next to me in a restaurant vaping while I’m eating dinner.”
But, he believes it is a much different product, and should be treated differently than tobacco smoke.
“They’re treating it as if it was smoking, which I disagree with,” he said of recent regulations in Ontario and Vancouver.
And that’s the approach Maple Ridge has taken.
When the city tightened up its smoking bylaw in the spring, it increased the distances that smokers must be from doorways, and included e-cigarettes in the bylaw. The bylaw does not show the amendment that included e-cigarettes, but the council minutes of April 8 indicate that the bylaw was changed.
Outgoing mayor Ernie Daykin said city hall decided its bylaws should treat all second-hand smoke the same.
“Whether it’s tobacco smoke out of a cigarette or vapor out of an e-cigarette, it’s just another version of second-hand smoke,” said Daykin.
Coun. Bob Masse recalled council’s discussion, and the intention was to put these smoking devices under the same rules.
“We were applying the same standards as for tobacco,” he said. “Maybe they’re not as bad as cigarettes, but there’s problems there.”
Dr. Lisa Mu, a medical health officer with the Fraser Health Authority, lauded the city for its tough second-hand smoke regulations, calling it “something we really applaud.”
She said Fraser Health has concerns about e-cigarettes in that they are a device that is being marketed as a smoking cessation aid.
“But there has been no official data this it is an effective smoking cessation aid,” she said.
However, the main concern is the “risk of re-normalization of smoking.”
Mu said e-cigarettes are being targeted at youth, and have been successful in bypassing tobacco laws in many parts of the world.
“Plain and simple, it looks like they are smoking,” she said. “We have worked very hard to de-normalize smoking.”
Mu said the vapor itself can be considered toxic, “albeit at very low exposures.”
What’s more, the juices that are available for vaping can contain nicotine, even when marketed as not containing it.
“And nicotine is a highly addictive substance,” she said.
Health Canada has banned e-cigarettes with nicotine from being sold in Canada, but they are legal in the U.S., and are still sold commonly in Canada.
Health Canada says it has investigated more than 250 complaints about the sale of nicotine contained in e-cigarettes in the past four years, and issued cease-and-desist orders, but critics say it has almost no ability to enforce its regulations.
Health officials cite a lack of research into vaping, but Springman said there are numerous studies that have already been done in Europe, and they are available to read.
Last month, the BBC published a report headlined, “E-cigarette fears might be unfounded.” It showed that e-cigarette users are almost entirely current or former smokers. Only one user in 300 had never smoked, it said.
Springman is a member of the Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, and it is gathering much of the research, pulling it together for the government of Nova Scotia, which has embarked on its own e-cigarette legislation.
He advocates that government should not be placing limitations on flavours, as Ontario has.
“As adults, we should be able to choose flavours,” he said. “That’s part of what makes vaping more interesting [than smoking tobacco].”
Victoria, too, is wrestling with provincial legislation, to be released this spring.
Springman believes it will be difficult for the electronic smoking industry to get a fair shake from governments.
“It’s influenced a lot by big tobacco, and by the money coming in on tobacco taxes,” he asserts.
Big tobacco is an industry that has been losing billions, and stands to lose even more.
Every day, Springman said, a new vaping enthusiast walks out of his Haney store.