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Vape panic

Provincial PCs and Lung Association of Nova Scotia call for stricter rules on vape sales

The Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party wants the sale of all flavoured vaping products banned province wide.  

On Wednesday Oct. 2, party leader Tim Houston proposed amendments to the Tobacco Access Act that would ban the sale of all flavoured e-liquids and make it illegal for people under 19 to possess tobacco.  

“I think when you talk about the flavours, they’re something that attracts youth in many ways. And we need to we need to address that,” Houston said to the CBC. He said although vaping began as a tool to help cigarette smokers lose their addiction, it has become too popular among young people.

His proposition was supported by the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, which says vaping has fueled troubling recent smoking statistics in Nova Scotia. 

“A tobacco smoker that’s switching to e-cigarettes, that’s one thing, but it’s really the rise in youth vaping rates that we’re concerned about,” says Michelle Donaldson, communications and special projects manager for the association. “A lot of those vapers are actually going to turn to smoking as well, it’s the first time in years we’ve had an increase in smoking rates among youth.”  

Industry response 

Jody Watts, operations manager of the Vapour Trail, a vape retailer with five locations in the HRM, believes that youth vaping is an issue and that stronger regulation is necessary, but targeting flavours is the wrong way to go about it.  

“Flavouring has been around for two decades,” Watts says, “and it’s only really been since the introduction of some larger companies — with marketing and advertising — that there’s been an issue with flavours.”  

The larger companies Watts is referring to are ones like JUUL Labs, Inc., whose sleek and simple device ignited the popularity of smoke-free nicotine consumption.  

JUUL came to Canada in 2018, after the enactment of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) which allowed adults to legally purchase e-cigarette products that contain nicotine. 

Traditional “mod” vapes, sold in speciality vape shops, require assembly and maintenance. The JUUL, on the other hand, is sold in gas stations and corner stores. It is about the length and double the width of a cigarette and its sole purpose is delivering high amounts of nicotine.  

According to Watts, it is the accessibility and ease of purchase granted to JUUL that has caused so many youths to pick one up and try it.  “When you’re buying a vape, you’re buying an electronic device. It’s somewhat similar to purchasing a cell phone,” he says. “Walking into Telus, picking up a brand new mobile phone and leaving in three minutes is unrealistic.” The JUUL, however, allows that. 

It is not only the lack of education offered at gas stations and convenience stores that is concerning to Watts, but also that young people can see a poster advertising JUUL’s scentless and smokeless features while they are in a snack aisle.  

Meanwhile, specialty vape retailers such as the Vapour Trail must adhere to Health Canada regulations. “If a parent with an infant walks into our store, they have to leave. No human being under the age of 19 is allowed to set foot in our stores,” says Watts.  

He also argues that flavours are an important part of someone successfully quitting cigarette smoking through vaping. “I kind of relate it to someone who, you know, perhaps has battled with alcoholism in regards to vodka. Having them kick that habit by giving them vodka-flavored water isn’t effective.”  

Do we need a ban? 

“If you’re used to smoking tobacco, tobacco typically doesn’t have the best flavor,” says Michelle Donaldson from Lung Association of Nova Scotia (LANS). “I don’t think cotton candy is necessarily going to be the trigger that pushes somebody to finally quit smoking.”  

Donaldson and the LANS believe that vapes should no longer be looked at as a device built primarily for adult smokers to lose their habit.  

“People were seeing it as a means to effectively quit smoking or aid with quitting smoking. But as youth rates have been continuing to rise,” she said, “it’s putting a whole other picture on vaping.” A University of Waterloo study shows that, nationwide, vaping in teens rose 74 per cent between 2017 and 2018. 

During the summer of 2019, the public perception of vaping underwent its largest change yet. On Aug. 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a U.S. federal agency, announced that it would be investigating “severe pulmonary disease among people who use e-cigarettes.” At the time, they were aware of 94 possible cases, across 14 states, from Jun. 28 to Aug. 15.  

As of Oct. 22, the CDC is aware of 1,604 “confirmed or probable” cases nationwide (excluding Alaska). There have been 34 deaths. The youngest being a 17-year-old from New York City, while the oldest was a 75-year-old.  

Canada’s first case was reported this September in Quebec. Since then, there has been one other confirmed case in Quebec, two probable cases in New Brunswick and one in British Columbia, according to the federal government.  

The actual cause of illness and death as a result of vaping remains mostly unclear, as cases have been attributed to the use of nicotine vaporizers and THC vaporizers.  

Cannabis vs. nicotine vapes 

THC vaporizers, commonly referred to as “dab pens” for their shape and content, offer weed consumers what JUUL does for smokers. The pen-like devices are scentless, eliminating a large issue for people who wish to consume cannabis discreetly. Much like JUUL, they are almost entirely un-studied.  

The weed vaporizers are filled with dab oil, called THC distillate. For many health officials, the concerns surrounding these pens is due to America’s state-by-state drug legislation; they are rarely purchased legally.  

Distillate can be found for sale on international e-commerce sites such as Alibaba, for as low as $2 USD per gram. Comparatively, a cartridge from licensed California cannabis brand Bloom Farms, of about half a gram, costs $35 USD.

On Oct. 28 the CDC released an analysis of the illnesses and deaths related to vaping, using 867 patients who supplied sufficient data on what vape product they had used in the three months prior to their first symptoms. It found that just over half of those patients had used both devices. However, 34 per cent used exclusively THC and only 11 per cent vaped exclusively nicotine.  

According to Health Canada, THC pens and cartridges will not be legally for sale in Canada until mid-December at the earliest.  

“We’re not creating any specific education around vaping THC specifically that I’m aware of,” says Michelle Donaldson. “We just want to reiterate: the only thing people should be breathing in their lungs is fresh Maritime air.”  

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