Is Alberta’s E-Cig Bill Striking the Right Balance?

On introducing the amended Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that a ban on flavoured vaping products was not included yet but may be added “down the road.” “Strong action needs to be taken to address significant increases in youth vaping,” added Shandro on introducing Bill 19.

Teen vaping rates

This bill follows a report with vaping data collected from over 75,000 students in Grades 9 to 12 in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec released last December, which had indicated a significant increase in teen vaping amongst high school students.

According to this report, nearly one-third of all high school students in Alberta and Quebec, and one in four in Ontario said they had vaped in the past month. As part of the yearly COMPASS survey on health behaviour of high school students, the survey is believed to be the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada, and the compiled data are made available to policy makers and researchers who study youth behaviour, with regards to substance use.

Referring to this data, Shandro’s ministry said that vaping rates among high school students have risen from 8 to 30% in the last 5 years. “No one fully knows yet all the health harms from vaping, but the recent emergence of vaping-associated lung illnesses and deaths is a warning,” he said inaccurately linking the infamous EVALI cases to vaping. “Vaping is not a harmless behaviour without short- or long-term consequences.”

Bill 19

Bill 19 reinforces a minimum age of 18 for purchasing and possessing vaping products and imposes harsh penalties on violators.

To this effect, Bill 19 reinforces a minimum age of 18 for purchasing and possessing vaping products and imposes harsh penalties on violators. Vaping displays and advertisements will no longer be allowed in gas stations and convenience stores, and further sales restrictions will be set in place.

On the other hand, the bill proposes to extend the current restrictions on traditional tobacco products to vaping products and vaping would be banned in places where smoking is already forbidden, such as hospitals, post-secondary schools and stores where pharmacies are located. Sadly, this sends the wrong message to the public, as there is no differentiation between the regulations for the different products, that is relative to the level of risk they pose.

However, an article on The Province is referring to Bill 19, as striking the right balance. “Bill 19 aims to amend the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act to include new restrictions and regulations for vaping products, specifically around where and how they can be sold and used.”

The main reason for the presumed balance is the fact that flavours have not been banned (yet). “With regard to the latter, the absence of a ban on flavoured vaping products is seen as a glaring oversight at best and a fatal flaw at worst. The bill gives the province the authority to consider such restrictions in the future but holds off doing so for now.”

The “cool factor” vs flavours

Thankfully the article goes on to quote recent studies indicating that social aspects such as the “cool factor” is what drives most teens to take up vaping, not flavours. The same factors that in the past used to drive teens to take up smoking.

“A study published earlier this month by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that smokers who switched to flavoured vaping products, were more than twice as likely to quit cigarettes compared to those who used tobacco-flavoured vaping products.”

“In other words, the lack of a ban on flavoured vaping products does not render Bill 19 a failure or useless. It’s actually quite in keeping with the intent of striking a reasonable balance.”

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