Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) replicate the act and taste of smoking but do not contain tobacco. They are growing rapidly in popularity. In the US (there is little Canadian data), one in five adult smokers has tried them according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Given the scarcity of relevant research, the CMA has called for ongoing research into the potential harms and benefits of electronic cigarette use.
- In the absence of solid evidence of harms or benefits, the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine should continue to be banned in Canada.
- The CMA recommends a ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes to Canadians younger than the minimum age for tobacco consumption.
The pros and cons of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes have both defenders and opponents, though the arguments are based largely on opinion since e-cigarettes are only beginning to undergo rigorous clinical testing.
Proponents – including some health officials and groups – say these products are safer than tobacco cigarettes since they do not contain the tar and other toxic ingredients that cause tobacco-related disease. Some believe they are useful as harm reduction or cessation aids (though they cannot be marketed as such, since that claim has never been fully evaluated).
Opponents are concerned that the nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes is addictive, and that the cigarettes may contain other toxic ingredients such as nitrosamines. They also worry that acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine efforts to denormalize smoking, and could be a gateway to tobacco use by people who might otherwise have remained smoke-free.
Canada and e-cigarettes
The sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine is presently illegal in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act, though they can be purchased in the US or online. Health Canada has warned about the potential dangers and many unknowns of e-cigarettes.
The global picture
Internationally, regulation of e-cigarettes is just beginning. A few countries – such as Brazil, Norway and Singapore – have banned them outright. France plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products, and the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a similar approach. Britain will regulate e-cigarettes as non-prescription drugs, starting in 2016.