by Stephen Dafoe
Recent news out of Edmonton has vape shop owners, including Morinville resident Thomas Kirsop concerned about the future of the industry. Edmonton Police Services (EPS) have interpreted the province’s Tobacco Reduction Act’s measures on flavoured tobacco to include e-liquids. They recently started visiting some Edmonton shops with compliance letters outlining that interpretation.
“The EPS [told Edmonton media] their problem isn’t that they don’t have the means to stop youth vaping. It’s that we aren’t enforcing the existing law,” said Alternatives and Options owner Thomas Kirsop. “They then interpreted the Alberta Act and said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of all flavoured product.'”
Kirsop said the EPS measure is half right – police are not enforcing existing law. But it is a different part of the law he’d like to see executed concerning youth vaping.
“There is a federal law that says it is illegal to sell this product to minors, and we should go out and enforce that law,” Kirsop said. “They could send a 17-year-old into a vape shop with twenty bucks and see if he gets asked for ID.”
Kirsop said EPS – if it wants to enforce the law – should be writing $100 tickets to every teen smoking a cigarette. “And if they interpret it to include e-cigarettes, they should be issuing a ticket to every minor vaping,” Kirsop said. ” The reality is if we are talking about not enforcing the existing law – you’re right, we’re not. Adding or increasing laws that we are not going to enforce is not going to have an impact. We ignore the tools we do have to invent a brand new tool.”
Outlawing flavoured e-liquid is shortsighted
Kirsop sees the EPS approach concerning flavoured e-liquids as shortsighted in addressing the problem of youth vaping. Additionally, he considers the move to be one that will affect customer and retailer alike.
“I’ve got the statistical data to show that unflavoured e-liquids are popular among less than one per cent of the vaping population in the United States. Canada is not going to be that different.”
Should a ban on flavoured e-liquids follow that of tobacco, Kirsop said he and other shops would have to sell an unflavoured mix that does not sell. That product, a mix of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and nicotine, the base ingredients in e-liquid, has but one customer between his Morinville and St. Albert shops.
“If you vape it, it won’t taste like a cigarette. It’ll taste like nothing – sweet, and depending on where the nicotine is sourced from, maybe pepper,” Kirsop explained. “It’s not appealing.”
Concern customers will return to smoking
By federal law, vape shop owners cannot discuss vaping as a better alternative to smoking. Kirsop’s primary customer base are those who use vaping as a method to quit or reduce smoking cigarettes.
As such, the product is already more complicated than simply opening a pack and setting a cigarette on fire. Between refilling the product, recharging the battery and replacing the coils, Kirsop’s customers have more steps to get their hit of nicotine.
Kirsop is concerned that forcing vape shops to sell only unflavoured liquids will send many customers back to cigarettes.
“The conversion rate for smokers is going to drop to almost nothing,” he said. He notes that existing vapers will bypass the law by ordering the product online from Saskatchewan, BC or the US. “If we were to follow the letter of the law, as EPS put it forward, there would not be very many shops for very long. Without the juice, no one is buying anything else.”
Kirsop said he does not expect an immediate expansion of the EPS interpretation elsewhere in the province. The UCP is to revisit the Tobacco Reduction Act in the fall sitting. But Kirsop is concerned that once a precedent exists, it opens the door to allow the government an easy way to address public concerns about youth vaping.
“There is no better way to say we don’t want youth to have this than to say that nobody can have this,” he said. “It won’t be as easy as they think it is because it is too easily bypassed. Most of our youth today are more Internet savvy than their parents. It’s not going to take them long to figure out they can get this by going to XYZ and ordering it or making it on their own.”
Ban on flavours won’t eliminate flavours
Kirsop is concerned people may try to make e-liquids on their own buying the unflavoured product and adding flavours. It is something that he believes could create some unsafe practices, including the use of oil-based flavourings, products that should never be inhaled.
But do-it-yourself market aside, Kirsop said some Alberta vape shops and Alberta e-liquid producers would have workarounds. “I would suggest shops that would not avail themselves of those workarounds would be out of business in six months,” he said. He did not want to elaborate on what those workarounds might be.
Beyond what Kirsop sees as a shortsighted approach to youth vaping, he is critical of the unintended consequences a flavour ban interpretation may have.
The shop owner said that if police interpret e-liquid as a tobacco product under the provincial Tobacco Reduction Act, it may also be interpreted as such under the tobacco taxation act?
“Is the Edmonton Police Force going to go out and make sure the taxes are being collected on e-liquid within the boundaries of Edmonton? Or are they going to go out and see if it has an excise sticker on it within the boundaries of Edmonton. This is the problem when one municipality interprets provincial law for that municipality only.”
His central concern remains using the tools that already exist under federal and provincial laws to combat youth vaping.
“We have these abilities to hit the minors using the vape,” Kirsop said. “Social access is the primary way that kids getting vapes. My buddy gave it to me. I found it in the house. Online ordering is one in 10. Seventy-five per cent of the kids are getting it through social circles.
“So if you are issuing those kids $100 tickets, and all of a sudden little Johnny has to explain to mom why he has this $100 ticket that she’s got to pay. That is going to shift some focus on ‘hey, you are not supposed to be using this product. But we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to stigmatize the child. That confuses me. Because right now we are concerned about youth becoming addicted to nicotine. If we are worried about a child’s brain development being impacted, worrying about a $100 ticket seems a little bit misplaced.”