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January 28, 2015
Ontario law takes the fire out of e-cigarette debate

The Ontario government has tabled legislation to ban electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes) in public places.  It also plans to outlaw the sale of flavoured tobacco products, including menthol.

Under the proposed legislation, the sale and use of e-cigarettes will be regulated in the same manner as regular cigarettes.  Sales will be restricted to those 19 years of age and older.  Plus, their use in public places such as restaurants, bars and patios will be restricted in the same manner as regular cigarettes.

As well, flavoured tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, which have been available in the province since the 1960s, will be phased out over a two-year period.

According to the Ontario Medical Association, flavoured tobacco products are marketed directly to children and teenagers.  A recent government survey indicated that one-quarter of high school students have smoked a menthol cigarette in the past 30 days.

With the new restrictions placed on e-cigarettes, the province has sided with Health Canada, the World Health Organization and others that have taken the position that e-cigarettes have the same potential for nicotine addiction and related health problems as regular cigarettes.

Other groups, including some medical researchers in places such as New Zealand, have suggested that the devices could be used to help smokers to gradually wean themselves from the nicotine habit.  They have also argued that since e-cigarettes do not contain tar, chemicals and other by-products, they are safer than traditional tobacco products.  

Clinical trials in New Zealand have also indicated that e-cigarettes have a higher success ratio in stopping smoking than the nicotine patch or gum.  (See the March 2014 of the Coughlin Courier for background.)

E-cigarettes are electronic inhalers that use heating elements to vaporize a liquid solution, usually composed of liquid nicotine, propylene glycol and flavouring.   Powered by small batteries, the liquid solution is heated, creating a steam-like vapour, which is then inhaled, like a cigarette.

“Ontario’s doctors welcome this legislation to protect our children from flavoured tobacco products and reduce the number of youth who start smoking,” says Dr. Scott Wooder, past president of the Ontario Medical Association.  

For plan sponsors in Ontario, the proposed law appears to quash any arguments that e-cigarettes should be considered smoking cessation products.  Any claims involving them are likely to be declined.

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