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E-cigarettes are a critical tool in the war on smoking

Any movement to ban or curtail vaping fails to acknowledge the value that e-cigarettes have as harm-reduction devices

OTTAWA, Ont. —  The war on electronic cigarettes is a misguided attack on a clear harm-reduction product.

A recent editorial, Electronic cigarettes and youth: a gateway that must be shut, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) says that Ontario youth are flocking to e-cigarettes or vaping at an "alarming rate."

The study states that 10 per cent of Grade 9 students in the Niagara region admit to having tried e-cigarettes at least once. The study also states that these students were more likely to have friends or family who smoked traditional cigarettes.

The author, Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, also wrote on the topic in 2013 in the CMAJ article Regulate e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices. Then, Stanbrook argued that society is yielding "precious ground in the war against tobacco" to e-cigarettes, and that the federal government must aggressively regulate the industry.

In an ideal world, no youth would experiment with smoking or drinking. We know that smoking kills, and due to education, aggressive package labelling and smoke-free laws, no one knows this better than youth. Yet every year, a small percentage of teens try anyway.

Although vape shop owners believe the practice is far less harmful than traditional smoking, they know that nicotine is addictive. So many agree that e-cigarettes should not be accessible to youth without (at minimum) their parents' accompaniment. The United Vape Retailers Association in Alberta, for example, holds their members to a strict ethical code and, even though provincial government regulation does not exist, do not sell e-cigarettes to minors.

The war against tobacco has failed to completely stop smoking. People of all ages remain addicted and find cigarettes nearly impossible to quit.
E-cigarettes have proven to be an effective, consumer-driven harm-reduction tool, created by the free market. It is an innovation that should be celebrated, not attacked.

In fact, the regulations being called for in provinces across Canada may limit the rights of citizens to seek out less harmful alternatives. Such regulations, then, would defy Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Public Health England, in partnership with other health agencies such as the British Lung Foundation and the Royal College of Physicians, has produced reports strongly supporting cigarette users switching to e-cigarettes. One report states that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than traditional cigarettes, and that among youth, e-cigarette use is almost exclusively confined to those who already smoke.

Since 2000, more than 1.3 million U.K. smokers have completely stopped because of e-cigarettes. In stark contrast to the CMAJ article calling e-cigarettes a public health crisis, the foremost health body in the U.K. heralds e-cigarettes as a "public health opportunity."

The 2013 CMAJ editorial claims that tobacco companies are "major players" in the e-cigarette industry. In Canada, the marketplace is much more complex. There is no tobacco in e-cigarettes, just nicotine. Tobacco companies would likely love to see vapour regulated out of the market. In fact, some tobacco companies have a hand in producing cessation products such as gum or patches, which many smokers insist do not work.

Regulations are supported by those in the health-care industry with the noble but unrealistic purpose of prohibiting any nicotine use. Meanwhile, tobacco and major pharmaceutical companies are equally pleased to keep people trying (usually unsuccessfully) cessation devices - and eventually giving up and continuing to smoke regular cigarettes.

Canadians must guard against any movement to limit our right to choose harm-reduction tools to improve our health. Outright bans and overregulation of e-cigarettes, while honourable in principle, will lead to more harm than good.

Lauren Millar is a second-year law student at the University of Ottawa and current Institute for Liberal Studies Fellow at the Canadian Constitution Foundation. She is an alumnus of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme and Trinity College at the University of Toronto.

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