TORONTO — Ontario announced a plan to curb youth vaping by restricting the sale of flavoured vapes and e-cigarettes while calling on the federal government to raise taxes on the addictive products.
Health Minister Christine Elliott unveiled the long-anticipated package of measures on Friday, who has been expressing concern about youth vaping for months.
She repeated those cautions while outlining the province's plans, citing recent studies suggesting use of vaping products among young people serged 74 per cent in the past year.
"As we learned more about the alarming increase in youth vaping, one thing has become abundantly clear: we need to do more," she said. "Indeed, the early evidence is quite concerning."
The proposed rules include restricting the sale of flavoured vape products to specialty vape and cannabis retail stores, which already only serve customers 19 and older. Products with menthol, mint and tobacco would be exempted.
The regulations also mean vapour products with nicotine levels higher than 20 milligrams will be limited to specialty stores.
Most of Ontario's proposed new rules are expected to come into effect May 1.
The measures mark the province's latest effort to tackle the rise in youth vaping. The promotion of vaping products in convenience stores and gas stations has been banned in Ontario since Jan. 1.
The province’s previous Liberal government was set to implement similar measures that would have kicked in last July, but the Progressive Conservatives paused those regulations shortly after taking office in June 2018.
Elliott stopped short of implementing a provincial tax on the products, but argued the federal government should consider such a step. She argued a tax would price vaping products beyond the means of many youth, minimize the regulatory burden on small business owners and ensure consistency across the country.
"We know that young people are more price sensitive than other consumers," she said. "Higher prices would also further deter youth who have never smoked from trying vapour products in the first place."
Alberta announced this week that it will be implementing its own 20 per cent tax on vaping devices and liquids to discourage youth, following in the footsteps of British Columbia and Prince Edward Island which implemented levees of their own last year.
Elliott said Ontario is willing to implement its own tax, but only if discussions with Ottawa move too slowly to address the growing problem.
"If it appears that's not going to be possible in a timely manner, then we will proceed provincially," she said, providing no specific timeline.
The federal Department of Finance did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The Ontario Medical Association said it supported the government changes and has advocated for "robust smoking cessation programs". Vaping products have helped some people stop smoking, although the evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive, the group said.
"This is an important continuation of the work the government has been engaged in to address the critical issue of youth vaping," OMA President Dr. Sohail Gandhi said.
NDP health critic France Gelinas said Friday the government's new regulations on vaping come far too late as youth vaping rates continue to soar.
She has tabled a private member's bill to address the problem. The bill, if passed, would prohibit the promotion of vaping products, regulate flavours, set a maximum amount of nicotine per vape, restrict sales to specialty shops, and require Ontario Health to prepare an annual report on vaping usage and health effects.
Gelinas's bill would also tax vape products and use that money to research the impact of vaping. The province should implement the tax immediately, she said.
"Ontario could do it tomorrow," she said. "But because it's a tax, and we have a Conservative government in place, they are paralysed by the word tax."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press