The federal government is proposing a suite of new measures to stop young people from using e-cigarettes, including a crackdown on the availability of flavours.

The government’s proposed measures, released Wednesday, include limiting the concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes, putting restrictions on online sales and regulating vaping products to make it harder for youth to conceal them in schools. Some e-cigarettes are so small they can be used in classrooms, according to Health Canada’s consultation document on the suggested changes.

The changes are not set to take effect any time soon. The document will first be open for public consultation, which the government will use to inform regulations on vaping.

According to the document, the most recent national figures from 2016-17 show that 15 per cent of students in Grades 10 to 12 said they had used a vaping product in the previous month. But public health experts believe those numbers have increased substantially as newer vaping products came on the market in Canada.

The announcement came as the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health issued a warning about the dangers of youth vaping. In a statement posted Wednesday, chief medical officers from across Canada said vaping poses a serious health risk and called on governments to take more action to reduce youth access. The medical officers “are very concerned that a new generation of youth addicted to nicotine may lead to a resurgence in smoking or create new public health problems, reversing decades of progress.”

Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, said she’s hearing from colleagues and parents who are alarmed at the rising rates of youth vaping and that it’s incumbent on governments to act to reduce the potential health risks linked to nicotine.

“It can lead to addiction,” Dr. Tam said. “Potentially, we will be seeing a resurgence in smoking.”

Studies show that e-cigarette use is linked to eventual smoking of traditional cigarettes. Dr. Tam noted that some e-cigarettes have the equivalent amount of nicotine as an entire package of cigarettes and that many young people aren’t even aware the products contain an addictive substance.

Last year, Ontario became the first province to pass legislation that allows vaping companies to advertise their products in public places, including places where young people may see them, such as convenience stores. Alberta and Saskatchewan do not have any e-cigarette laws.

But earlier this year, the federal government introduced a proposal to ban vaping ads from public places where young people could see them, including billboards and public transit. The ban would apply to retail stores where youth are allowed, as well as print publications, websites and social media. Vaping ads would be prohibited on TV and radio, but only immediately before, during and after youth programming.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said the regulatory proposals are necessary given the rise in youth vaping and the potential risks. The U.S. has already initiated a number of similar measures, including policies that will eventually restrict many e-cigarette flavours.

“There’s no doubt that the endless array of flavours has made e-cigarettes attractive to youth,” Mr. Cunningham said. “There’s simply no reason why there should be so many flavours.”

It will take time for the federal government’s proposed advertising ban and restrictions on flavours to take effect. But there are other things provincial governments can do in the meantime, Mr. Cunningham said, including raising the minimum age of purchase to 21 and restrict access to e-cigarettes in retail stores, with the exception of specialty vape shops.

The Globe and Mail, April 12, 2019