The British Columbia government is moving ahead with regulations designed to making vaping less appealing for young people by restricting the availability of vaping products in convenience stores.
During a news conference last week, the province’s Health Minister Adrian Dix said the sale of flavoured nicotine vapour products will be restricted to adult-only shops: “We have the power to restrict flavours. Only tobacco flavours will be allowed.”
The proposed changes are expected to be fully in place by the end of summer and represent another blow to the convenience industry, which is grappling with similar restrictions in other provinces, including Ontario.
The Government of British Columbia’s regulations restricting the availability of vaping products in convenience stores, while allowing specialty vape shops and online retailers to continue to operate unchecked, will not address youth vaping, counters the Convenience Industry Council of Canada.
“All the available evidence shows that convenience stores outperform specialty retail shops in the responsible retailing of age-restricted products. Recent reports released by the Government of Canada show that 87% of convenience stores passed their mystery shopping tests, compared to the 20% of vape shops which passed,” says CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala, noting that eight out of 10 vape shops failed mystery-shopping tests.
In addition, CICC points out that the largest study of its kind conducted in Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) “2019 Drug use Among Ontario Students Report” found that convenience stores were ‘the least common source of vaping products for youth: Borrowing from a friend topped the list (53.7%), buying from a friend or someone else (11.2%), and purchasing from a specialty vape store (9.7%) were the top three sources, with convenience stores making up less than 1%. “This report confirms what we have been saying for months; convenience stores are not the source of vaping products for youth,” says Kothawala.
However, the backlash continues, with Health Canada earlier this month moving ahead with new rules banning the promotion of vaping products in places young people can access.
Calling nicotine a “public health hazard,” Dix did acknowledge the role vaping could play in helping adult smokers reduce risk. “Vaping is of course, for some people, harm reduction. And if you are a lifetime smoker, it can have that impact, it can reduce the harm from smoking…. But if you are a young person, if you are under 19, it is not harm reduction, it is just harm.”
A Canadian student tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey found youth vaping among students in grades 10-12 increased in B.C. from 11% in the 2014-15 school year to 39% last year. Across the country, the increase was from 9% to 29%.
Other changes introduced by the B.C. government include restricting the amount of nicotine in the pods and ensuring c-stores will only be allowed to sell vapour products in plain packaging with health warnings.
In a statement, the Canadian Cancer Society welcomed the announcement. “The high levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes are an important factor contributing to skyrocketing rates of youth vaping in Canada. It is hoped that the action by the B.C. government will prompt the federal government to establish the same maximum nicotine level for all of Canada.”
The CICC maintains the proposal to reduce nicotine concentrations could force adult customers of vaping products back to cigarettes.
“Our industry sales data shows that over 90% of adult smokers who switched from tobacco to a reduced risk vaping product chose a flavoured option with a nicotine concentration that matches that of a cigarette,” says Kothawala. “While we fully support any efforts to combat the increase in youth vaping, restricting the ability of convenience stores to offer the products our adult customers need to successfully quit smoking is not only misguided, it is dangerous public policy.”
Meanwhile, most of the changes, including the nicotine and flavouring regulations, will be immediately enforced in British Columbia, while remainder of the regulations will be implemented starting Sept. 15.
“There is still time for the B.C. government to implement policies that will actually work, but until the government addresses the true sources of youth access to vaping products from online retailers and vape shops that continually violate federal laws, they will not address the youth vaping issue and will fail to meet their harm reduction strategy,” says Kothawala.
- with files from The Canadian Press