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Nova Scotia and Alberta reviewing vaping regulations

Government in Alberta and Nova Scotia are reviewing laws and regulations around vaping products.

In Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil says his government is looking at regulations that could ban flavoured vaping products in the province.

McNeil responded Wednesday after the Opposition Progressive Conservatives introduced legislation aimed at addressing the growing numbers of young people who vape.

The Tory bill calls for a ban on e-liquids, and prohibits the use and possession of tobacco products by people under the age of 19.

However, McNeil says the government is already considering a series of potential regulatory changes that would require licences to sell vaping products, similar to those required to sell tobacco.

He says vaping products are regulated by Health Canada, and he believes the federal agency must also “step up” to tighten rules around things like nicotine content.

The premier added that some provincial legislation may also be needed, but there likely won’t be a bill introduced during the current fall session of the legislature.

“We don’t actually need (legislation) to ban the flavours, but we may need to in terms of making other changes that may be required on how we deal with that product,” McNeil said.

He added the regulatory changes could appear before the session wraps up.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said something has to be done about a product that was originally marketed as a smoking cessation device.

Houston said while vaping products have probably helped some smokers quit the habit, it’s becoming more clear there are potentially harmful health effects.

“My party’s objective is to make sure the discussion is being had,” he said. “If the premier is willing to engage in that discussion, then that’s a good thing.”

In an August interview, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said that online sales were another challenge for the province. He also expressed concerns about teens being able to purchase products from vape stores.

While Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to introduce regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19 and banning in-store advertising, Strang said there could be further tightening.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government will consider adding rules for vaping when it reviews the province’s smoking and tobacco legislation next month.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he’s particularly concerned about the growing number of youth who vape, but there’s evidence it can be helpful for adults who are trying to quit smoking conventional cigarettes.

“I respect the rights of adults to choose for themselves, including choices that are unhealthy, but I don’t want my kids or anyone else’s kids to be pressured to start smoking or to start vaping,” he told reporters Wednesday.

He added a quarter of Alberta teens report having vaped in the last month.

Some acute lung illnesses have been reported as a result of vaping in Canada, but to date no cases in Alberta have come up.

The Centres for Disease Control in the United States has said 80% of the 800 recently reported severe lung illnesses from vaping involved people inhaling the cannabis compound THC with their device.

The review of Alberta’s Tobacco Act – which was already set to take place this fall regardless of recent vaping headlines – will be led by legislature member Jeremy Nixon. It is to seek feedback from school districts, municipalities, retailers and health advocates.

Nixon said the review could look at a minimum age for vaping, limiting its use in public places and workplaces, and strengthening restrictions for advertising, especially to youth.

The work is to begin Nov. 1 and be completed by year’s end, with a goal of having any changes brought before the legislature next spring. But Shandro said the government could act sooner if Alberta’s chief medical officer of health recommends any urgent action.

The legislation was last reviewed in 2012.

“This is a new, emerging technology that fell outside the scope of what the legislation said at the time,” Shandro said.

Darryl Tempest, executive director at the Canadian Vaping Association, said the Alberta government is taking a measured approach.

“We at the CVA share the deep concerns of Canadians about the recent cases of lung illnesses, particularly among youth,” he said.

“It’s critical that health authorities get to the primary source of this outbreak, as non-nicotine e-liquid vaping devices sourced on the black market have been implicated in many cases. It is for this reason that we encourage other provincial lawmakers and authorities to follow the example of Alberta.”

David Hammond, a professor of public health at the University of Waterloo, said governments need to act on vaping before there are calls for an all-out ban, which he said would be unproductive and unrealistic.

The key is to target vaping products at adults looking to get off more harmful traditional cigarettes, while cracking down on anything that would entice youth to pick up the habit, he said.

That could include banning advertising anywhere accessible to kids and limiting the zany flavours available for vaping devices popular with youth.

“I actually think it’s a barrier to some adult smokers and to some health professionals considering these products for quitting because they look like kiddie products – peanut butter and jam, chocolate chip cookie dough, cereal milk.”

At the same time, adults need to be better informed, Hammond added.

“In fact, smokers are confused,” he said. “A lot of them think that it’s just as bad or worse than smoking. And so we’ve actually failed both ends of this issue.”