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November 8th, 2015:

Smyth: B.C. government’s intervention on e-cigs and vapourizers unnecessary and harmful, industry says

Keaton Bast will never forget the day he first tried an electronic cigarette.

It was the same day he quit traditional tobacco cigarettes for good, finally kicking a habit that had enslaved him since he was 15.

“It saved my life,” says the now-23-year-old Vancouver man. “And this technology can save thousands more, which is why I believe in it so strongly.”

It’s also why he’s so frustrated with the B.C. government, which is aggressively moving to classify and regulate e-cigarettes and vapourizers in the same way as tobacco.

“When you compare vapour to tobacco smoke, there is no comparison,” Bast said. “These products save people FROM tobacco, but the government only wants to focus on the negatives.”

A typical e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a liquid nicotine solution, creating a vapour that’s inhaled.

A vapourizer is a higher-quality piece of hardware that can be re-used. The user inserts a capsule of “juice” that comes in a wide variety of flavours — from chocolate to key-lime pie.

The rising popularity of e-cigs and vapourizers has spawned a new industry in B.C., where an estimated 60 “vape shops” are doing a brisk business.

Bast now runs his own vapourizer juice company, specializing in fruit-flavoured liquids he sells to vapour shops throughout Canada.

But now the government is moving in.

“There’s a real lack of standardization and knowledge about what’s in these products,” said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake.

“We’re trying to protect particularly young people. We’re essentially treating these products like we do tobacco.”

And that means classifying vapour the same as cigarette smoke.

In draft regulations, scheduled to come into effect early next year, the government has told the vapour shops they will no longer be allowed to demonstrate their products in their stores.

Customers will also be banned from sampling different flavours of vapour juice on the premises.

Why? Because “vaping” will be classified the same as smoking and vapour the same as second-hand smoke.

So, just like smoking, using a vapourizer or e-cigarette will be banned in workplaces, including the vapour shops.

It’s a move that will drive many shops out of business, predicts Dylan Godfrey, founder and vice-president of the B.C. Vapour Alliance.

“People need to be shown how to use these products properly,” Godfrey said. “Otherwise, they’ll use them incorrectly, give up and go back to smoking cigarettes.”

Godfrey, who runs a vapourizer import business and is preparing to open his own store in Victoria, is another former hard-core smoker.

“I tried everything,” he said. “The patch, Nicorette gum, chewable nicotine mints, powerful drugs like Champix and Zyban that produced terrible mental side effects — nothing worked.

“The only thing that worked for me was the vapourizer. Now the government is proposing regulations that will hurt people like me instead of helping them.”

The benefit of the vapourizer, he said, is that it allows the user to obtain a carefully controlled nicotine dose without the thousands of chemicals and cancer-causing agents found in tobacco.

But Lake, the health minister, argues the vapour could be dangerous, too.

“There’s no one testing these products to tell us what’s in them,” Lake said. “In the absence of that information, we need to protect people, particularly children, from harmful effects.”

He’s also worried about people trying out the vapourizers and then switching to tobacco.

“E-cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking,” he said.

But Bast said he can tell Lake exactly what’s in his vapour juice: Fruit flavouring, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, the same stuff that billows out of fog machines in night clubs.

How could that be lumped into the same category as the fatal poisons in cigarette smoke?

And as for vaping being a “gateway” to smoking, several recent reports suggest otherwise, including a Yale University study that found access to e-cigarettes and vapourizers reduced smoking rates.

There seems little doubt in emerging scientific literature that vapour is far safer than smoke.

“Best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service, help most smokers to quit tobacco altogether,” said a recent report by Public Health England.

The city of Calgary just passed new vapour bylaws banning the use of vapourizers and e-cigarettes in places where traditional cigarettes are already prohibited — except in the city’s vapour shops.

“This is a very new technology and they really want to just show people how it works,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

B.C.’s vapour shops are despondent the provincial government won’t give them the same exemption.

“There are jobs and lives on the line,” said Godfrey. “I’d like to bring the politicians into our stores and show them what we’re doing. Maybe they would change their minds.”

I suspect it’s an invitation Terry Lake will not accept.