E-cigs for teens could go up in smoke if bill passes

Queen's Park looking at banning use and sale of controversial tobacco substitute

The Ontario government is planning to ban the use and sale of all vapourizing electronic cigarettes for those under 19. The legislation will also prohibit flavoured tobacco products – including menthol. The government says it’s a move to reduce smoking among youth.

Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla announced late last year that the bill will also ban e-cigarettes from most public places. Currently they can be used where normal cigarettes cannot, such as restaurants, bars, and shopping centres.

“We have designed the legislation in such a way that it’s flexible, and through regulations we can change it so that electronic cigarettes will be available in pharmacies,” Damerla said. “We want to make sure our kids don’t start to ‘vape’ when we don’t know whether it’s good or bad.”

Penalties for anyone selling e-cigarettes to minors could be as high as $100,000 for storeowners and $300,000 for corporations. The fines for selling flavoured tobacco could be even higher.

“We’re not banning it,” she said of e-cigarettes. “All we’re saying is we want to regulate it and there’s absolutely nothing in this legislation that would stop an adult from using it.”

Damerla also said that flavoured tobacco products could be construed as a means to create the next generation of smokers among the young.

The pending legislation has created a little stir on the Danforth, where there are several lounges and bars where customers can use water pipes or “hookahs.”

Younes Regragui, the owner of the hookah lounge and restaurant The Desert Rose at the corner of Pape and Cosburn avenues, said he supports the proposed law.

“I respect that very much. I’m a father myself. I have teenagers and I wouldn’t want to see them consume the flavoured hookah. I think it’s very fair, and it’s a great thing to do this for the minors,” Regragui said. “But for the adults, we need something clear on this, too. Our store is actually tobacco-free, because we were under the impression that serving actual tobacco here was already illegal.”

Regragui said that hookahs are part of Arabic culture, where women and men normally enjoy it to relax after dinner.

“We don’t want to take away the freedom in adults to choose whether or not they smoke flavoured tobacco, so we would like for someone, or some guideline to explain to us exactly what we can and can’t do. We have called the ministry a few times, and checked the websites too, but we couldn’t find any straight answers at all,” Regragui said, “Maybe this new law will be able to give all the hookah businesses equal opportunities and a fair ground to compete in.”

If the bill passes, the new law will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.