Transit users will no longer be seeing vaping ads on their bus and subway commutes after the TTC passed a motion to ban the ads on their property — a move it says will bring it closer in line with provincial and federal regulations on the promotion of vaping.
"You look at the flavours, you look at the way the marketing's been done over the past months and years — you know bubblegum and dessert-flavoured vaping — and a lot of that stuff does seem to be targeted towards youth," TTC board member Brad Bradford told CBC News.
"So, certainly that's not something we want to be supporting," said Bradford.
The move comes just weeks after the province of Ontario announced it will be banning the promotion of vaping products in convenience stores and gas stations starting in January. It also comes amid rising concerns about the health effects of vaping. In the U.S., more than 1,600 cases of vaping-related illnesses have been reported, and at least 34 deaths have been linked to vaping. Reports of illness have also started to trickle in from the provinces after Health Canada issued a public warning earlier this fall.
'I think it's the correct step'
With approximately 1.7 million riders using the TTC daily, losing that kind of ad space might seem like it would be a blow to the vaping industry. But for Samuel Tam, president of the Canadian Vaping Association, that's not the case.
"I think it's the correct step to take," he said, noting more than 10 per cent of riders are under the age of 19. "We don't need our Canadian youth to be exposed to the advertising that's out there."
Indeed, says the province, "vaping among Ontario's youth is on the rise." Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 74 per cent increase in vaping among Canadians aged 16-19, the province said in October.
Tam says he also supports Ontario's recent move to ban vaping ads from convenience stores, adding many ads don't do their job in terms of educating consumers about harm reduction, and make it too easy for those underage to be exposed to the idea of vaping.
"We know kids are always congregating at convenience stores to buy their products and gum and candies and I think those restrictions are very important," said Tam.
'If you're not a smoker, don't vape'
Tam says he'd like to see advertising around vaping limited to adult-only environments.
"Those are places where adults should be able to access information to learn about the products and learn about how vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes," he said.
As part of its work, Tam says the vaping association meets regularly with Canada's federal health agency, and earlier this year made a set of proposals around limiting vaping ads. Among them: imposing a two-step age verification process to make it harder for children to obtain vaping products.
"Canadians should have the privilege to know that vaping is less harmful but I think the challenge is how will we be able to still deliver that message without exposing our youth," he said.
So, what about the vaping ads currently on TTC properties? Radford says when their contracts are up, the ads will be coming down.
The bottom line for Tam: "If you're not a smoker, don't vape... That remains our message."