B.C. has announced new rules on vape products, including higher taxes, restrictions on sales and advertising, limits on nicotine content and constraints on packaging.
Beginning in the spring of 2020, vapour pods and liquids will only be allowed to contain 20 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre, and will have to be sold in plain packaging with health warnings.
Flavoured products will only be sold in vape-specific shops with age restrictions, and no advertising will be allowed in public spaces like bus shelters or parks where young people gather.
The tobacco tax rate will also be increased by two cents beginning in Jan. 1, while the government will introduce legislation to increase the PST on vaping products from 7 per cent to 20 per cent. The PST increase will apply to cannabis vape juice once legal sales begin later this year, but other cannabis products will continue to be taxed at seven per cent.
Health Minister Adrian Dix, Education Minister Rob Fleming and Finance Minister Carole James announced the new regulations at a news conference Thursday morning.
"Some vaping manufacturers are using flavours and advertising to entice and normalize vaping for youth — introducing a new generation to very high levels of a very addictive drug," Dix said in a news release.
"As a result, youth vaping rates are rising, putting them at risk for addiction and serious illness."
The province stopped short of banning flavoured products, as some states have done. Dix said B.C. will prohibit some flavours that "clearly attract young people," but those have yet to be defined.
Concerns about black market
Dix said he's calling on the federal government to implement national regulations on vape product wholesalers as well.
"Until they do, there will be a black market of non-compliant vapour products from other jurisdictions," he said.
The new regulations are said to be the most substantive in the country.
The rules come as youth e-cigarette use continues to skyrocket. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, vaping among young people rose by 74 per cent between 2017 and 2018.
Part of the government's new plan will be a social media campaign led by young people to "de-normalize" vaping.
Thousands of cases of lung injury have been linked to vaping across North America.
To date, health officials have identified three probable cases of probable vaping-related illness in B.C.
So far, the government's new plan is getting positive reviews from doctors in B.C.
Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, spoke at Thursday's press conference and said she had no choice but to "gush" about the plan.
"We now stand on the cusp of seeing a new generation of nicotine consumers due to their increasing use of vaping products," she told reporters.
"There's a real potential for this product to reverse the hard won gains in tobacco control over the last few decades."
She said that while e-cigarettes are likely less harmful than regular cigarettes, they still make it easy for young people to become addicted to nicotine and can be a gateway to other, more dangerous tobacco products.
"We know that nicotine can alter brain function by affecting memory, concentration, reduction in impulse control and lead to cognitive and behavioural problems. It has also led to an increase in poisoning incidents both in British Columbia and Canada," Dawar said.
Convenience stores slam new rules
But not everyone is happy with the new rules.
The Convenience Industry Council of Canada, which represents 2,500 convenience stores in B.C., warns that taking vaping products out of most shops will just make it more difficult for adults to access alternatives to cigarettes.
President Anne Kothawala said convenience store employees have an "excellent track record" for making sure only adults can buy adult products, and retailers are not responsible for the rise of youth vaping.
"In fact, Government of Canada data shows that almost 90 per cent of youth who vape, or have tried vaping, are getting these products from 'social sources' ... online purchases, and grey-market retailers," Kothawala said in a news release.
"Governments appear to be losing sight of a key public policy objective: to transition adult smokers to reduced risk products."