Legislation would restrict display and advertising of vaping products in Alberta

A rapid rise in youth vaping is prompting the Alberta government to restrict access to and advertising of the products in the province.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro tabled a bill in the legislature on Tuesday that prohibits minors from possessing, buying or using vaping products in Alberta, or risk a $100 fine.

Federal law already prohibits stores from selling vaping products to youths.

"No one actually knows yet all the health harms from vaping, but the recent emergency of vaping-associated lung illnesses and deaths is a warning," Shandro said at an embargoed news conference Tuesday afternoon. "Vaping is not a harmless behaviour without short- or long-term consequences."

The government pointed to data from student drug-use surveys that found in 2018-19, 30 per cent of Alberta high school students said they had used vaping products during the previous month. That was up from eight per cent of high schoolers five years earlier.

Should it pass, Bill 19 would disallow sales of vaping products to anyone under age 18 and require anyone who looks under 25 to show ID at the till.

Advertising rules

Sales of e-cigarettes, liquid cartridges and other vaping products would be banned in health facilities, public post-secondary institutions, and any retail store with a pharmacy inside. Vaping products and cigarettes could not be sold at mobile kiosks or in vending machines.

As with cigarettes, stores selling vaping products would have to get rid of any advertising or promotion for the products and keep them out of sight before a customer buys them.

Violating display or advertising rules could net a business a $500 fine.Giving vapes to a child or teen would also earn an offender a $500 fine.

Alberta will be the last of the 10 provinces to adopt vaping legislation, should the bill pass.

Although the Alberta government promised a 20-per-cent tax on vaping products in the February 2020 budget, the United Conservative Party government has yet to introduce legislation to collect the tax and has no immediate plans to do so, said a spokesperson for the finance minister.

Adult-only specialty stores for vaping products would be exempted from the display and advertising rules.

Flavoured cartridges remain unregulated

The government stopped short of cracking down on flavoured vaping products and, instead, plans to give itself the power to write regulations in the future, should legislators wish to. Shandro said the government isn't sure if it will go there.

In April, Nova Scotia became the first province to ban flavoured e-cigarette cartridges.

If passed, the bill would also amend the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act to expand public places where both smoking and vaping are disallowed. It would disallow product use on hospital, school and child-care properties, playgrounds, sports fields, skate and bicycle parks, zoos, outdoor theatres, public pools and spray parks.

If tobacco use remains at current rates, it's anticipated to cost the provincial health system an additional $6 billion during the next four years, according to the government.

Steven Senne/The Associated Press

Many Alberta municipalities and school boards already limit where people are allowed to smoke, vape or use cannabis.

If the legislature approves the bill, the government intends to make the law effective in fall 2020 after it has had time to write additional regulations.

The proposed changes are based on recommendations from a fall 2019 review of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act. The results of that review were also released Tuesday.

The review, led by Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon, surveyed 9,500 people about tobacco and vaping use and held 41 consultations sessions with 250 people.

Input came from police agencies, academics, doctors, anti-smoking groups, hookah pipe establishments, large tobacco companies and 38 vaping shops, according to the report.

Although several vaping product manufacturers are registered lobbyists in Alberta, Shandro said he did not meet with any of those involved with the file.

"We also respect that there must be a balance — a balance between restricting the availability and promotion of vaping products to our youth while making them available to adult Albertans who are trying to quit smoking," Shandro said.

Vaping industry associations tout the products as "a safer alternative to cigarette smoking."