The Canadian government is set to announce regulations on e-cigarettes. Photo: Kim Wiens
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Canada needs to be smart about e-cigarette regulation

Recently, the federal government announced that it will regulate e-cigarettes within the coming year. While regulation is an important step, it must be done properly.

But wait, why should we regulate e-cigarettes? Because they are likely still a safety hazard due to the potential for harmful second hand smoke, and we don’t have enough definitive research about their contents.

In an interview with Metro, Health Minister Jane Philpott said that there isn’t a full body of information on e-cigarettes, and we might not be apprised of all the dangers associated with them. Because of this, the government should regulate the use of e-cigarettes in public places and around children, like it does for regular cigarettes.

So, if regulating where e-cigarettes can be consumed is worth doing, wouldn’t the best approach be to increase taxes?

A study by University of Ottawa professor David Sweanor took a more economic approach to the subject. The study found that raising taxes doesn’t cause as much harm to tobacco companies as expected, as it allows them to raise margins without people noticing.

He also found that, for a number of consumers, raising the price did not lead to them quitting smoking.

Sweanor said that instead of taxes, there needs to be competitive substitutes in the tobacco industry, since that will encourage people to switch to what he sees as a much safer alternative.

However, the flip side of this solution is that if e-cigarettes are viewed as a more palatable substitute for cigarettes, it might induce new users—especially young people—to get hooked on a product that hasn’t been fully tested yet.

This is especially concerning since, the United States’ Center for Disease Control  found that use of e-cigarettes among high school and middle school students is on the rise.

People’s safety is always a driving force behind regulation, and this case shouldn’t be any different. Efforts absolutely need to be made to discourage people from viewing it as a “safer” option if that’s not indeed the case.

However, taxes are not the most effective way to do that. Rather, prohibitions on where e-cigarettes can be consumed is the right way to go, at least until more research can be done on their effects.

It doesn’t need to be e-cigarettes, but the government does need to make sure that when their regulations are implemented, the tobacco industry is left in such a way that a new substitute can emerge.

This is especially important as the government will be looking to regulate other tobacco products along with e-cigarettes. The fact is, heavy taxes or other blanket regulations could prevent any substitutes for dangerous products from emerging and giving people options to stop smoking.

Getting more information on the safety of these options is paramount. But once a body of evidence is established and these products are proven to be safe, or at least better than the current alternatives, only then should they be allowed to become a substitute for the current brands.