TORONTO — Allowing the display and advertising of vaping products in thousands of convenience stores across Ontario will lead to increased nicotine addiction among teenagers, a coalition of health groups warned the provincial government on Tuesday.
The Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco — which includes the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart & Stroke Foundation — said proposed changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act announced last week will allow the advertising of such products.
“We strongly urge the Ford government to withdraw the proposal to allow unrestricted display and promotion of these products where kids can see them, often next to the candy, in retail stores,” said Michael Perley, the group’s director.
Ontario was set to ban the promotion of vaping products in convenience stores under the previous Liberal regime but the new Progressive Conservative government paused regulations that were to come into effect on July 1.
Perley said many vaping products are made by tobacco companies, contain nicotine, and their flavours and packaging are designed to imitate candy.
“One has to wonder whether these vaping products from the tobacco industry are on the market with nicotine to encourage users, especially younger users who don’t already smoke, to then move on to cigarettes?” he said. “That’s a question we don’t have an answer to. It seems possible.”
Health Canada says vaping products are harmful, although not as harmful as smoking cigarettes, and has expressed concern about the appeal of vaping to teens and its potential to promote tobacco use. It says there is clear evidence that exposure to nicotine adversely affects cognitive function in the developing brains of adolescents.
Robert Schwartz, director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit at the University of Toronto, said studies have shown almost 15 per cent of Canadian teens in Grades 10 to 12 are now vaping. That’s far greater than the proportion of youth smoking cigarettes, he said.
“With additional display and promotion there are certainly fears that this is going to rise quickly,” he said, noting that seven provinces have already banned vaping promotion in convenience stores.
Schwartz also said that while e-cigarettes and vaping can be effective smoking cessation tools, non-smokers should not begin vaping because nicotine is highly addictive and has its own health implications.
“The scientific community is in very large consensus that if you do not smoke, you should not vape,” he said. “Vaping is far from benign.”
One high school student who joined the health groups in their call said he’s seen the impact of vaping promotion among his peers.
“It’s forming a culture,” said Cameron Prosic, who attends school in Hamilton. “It’s becoming cool to vape.”
A spokeswoman for the Minister of Health said that while the new regulation acknowledges that smoking and vaping products are different, the government will not allow potentially harmful products to be accessible to youth.
“That’s why retailers are prohibited from selling tobacco and vapour products to anyone under the age of 19,” Hayley Chazan said in an email. “Furthermore, the testing of vapour products would be restricted to registered specialty vape stores where access by persons under the age of 19 is prohibited.”
NDP health critic France Gelinas said the government is putting youth at risk with the proposed regulations and noted that the decision will please the vaping industry.
“They got their wish,” she said. “Now we’re going down a path where many, many young children will get addicted to nicotine.”
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press