MONTREAL — The Quebec government is modifying the province's anti-tobacco law to crack down on vaping, including by banning the sale of flavoured products.
The new regulations tabled Wednesday would prevent the sale of vape products in flavours other than tobacco, cap the nicotine content to 20 milligrams per millilitre, and limit the size of capsules and refill containers.
The new rules would also restrict the sale of vaping products in "the form of a toy, a jewel, a food, an animal or a real or fictional character or any other form, appearance or function which may be attractive to minors," according to a draft in the official government journal, Gazette officielle du Québec.
Health Minister Christian Dubé says the changes are designed to better protect Quebecers, especially young people.
Banning flavoured vapes is "excessively important" to the government, and follows a similar move to ban flavoured cigarettes a few years ago, he told reporters in Quebec City.
The government cited data showing the number of high school students who reported having vaped in the prior 30 days more than quintupled between 2013 and 2019, to 21 per cent from four per cent.
Isabelle Charest, minister responsible for sports and recreation, said over 90 per cent of the vapes used by minors are sweetened or flavoured.
"The important thing for us is to limit the attraction of these products, which could lead them to developing an attraction for tobacco and become smokers for all their lives," she said alongside Dubé.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation welcomed the news, noting that vape flavour bans are in force in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
"More than a quarter of young people started smoking cigarettes after they started vaping because they are addicted to nicotine," Kevin Bilodeau, the group's director for Quebec government relations, said in a statement.
"This is why the proposed limit on the concentration of nicotine in vaping products is excellent news, especially since we know that nicotine is harmful to developing brains."
In an interview, Bilodeau said the anti-tobacco group's research also shows that the availability of flavours, including fruit, mint and menthol, are an important reason why young people start and continue to vape.
"Flavours are special because at first taste we can think it's inoffensive or not dangerous, but in fact it's the way used by the industry to attract new consumers."
The official gazette noted that the new rules would likely result in lower revenue and job losses for some businesses and in particular for boutiques that specialize in vaping products.
Eric Gagnon, the vice-president of legal and external affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada, said the company is disappointed in the decision. In a phone interview, he said that while vaping is "not harmless," health experts have found it to be preferable to smoking. He noted that even Health Canada's website suggests vaping nicotine can help adults give up cigarettes.
Gagnon said that while the company agrees that minors should neither smoke nor vape, it doesn't think prohibition works.
"It's not by banning flavours that you're going to stop youth that are vaping to vape," he said. "What's going to happen is they're going to buy these products illegally."
He said governments would be better off attacking the problem through education and awareness, and by cracking down on those who sell to minors.
Dubé acknowledged that some people who want flavoured vapes will be able to procure them illegally or online, but he said banning their sale in the province was still the right thing to do, noting that similar calculations had been made when the state restricted cigarette flavours.
"We know there will be contraband, we know people might be able to get it over the internet, we’re aware," he said.
"But the same way we limited flavours for cigarettes, the same for cannabis, we’re saying, ‘it’s not legal, don’t do it.’"
The government has 45 days to hear from and consult with any concerned parties. The regulation is expected to come into effect 90 days after it was published in the gazette.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press