Feds to cap nicotine levels in vape products, considering flavour ban

Above: Alternatives & Options owner Thomas Kirsop stands by a notice of the forthcoming regulations on e-liquids. – Stephen Dafoe photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Citing an increase in youth vaping rates due to the appeal of flavoured juices, the federal government is poised to introduce regulatory changes to curb the variety of flavours available to vapers.

Health Canada, who acknowledges “vaping is a less harmful source of nicotine than cigarettes for those who switch completely to vaping,” has proposed regulatory changes to reduce the flavour options to tobacco and mint/menthol.

“Vaping is putting a new generation of Canadians at risk of nicotine addiction and other harms from vaping,” said The Honourable Patty Hajdu, federal minister of health. “We’re taking this action because we know that nicotine has particular impacts on young people’s brain development, memory and concentration.”

The proposed changes are in the Canada Gazette, Part I, and the government is currently accepting comments for 75 days – from June 18 to September 2, 2021.

Health Canada argues the reduction in available flavours will help to make vaping less attractive to youth.

But reducing the variety of flavouring options for vape users is not Health Canada’s only move. Canada Gazette, Part II includes Nicotine Concentration in Vaping Products Regulations that set a maximum nicotine concentration of 20 mg/mL in vaping products. The government has also orchestrated this move to make vaping less appealing to youth.

Manufacturers will have to cease producing products that contain over 20 mg/ml by July 8, 2021, and retailers may not sell products that exceed this limit after July 23, 2021.

“These new measures build on our efforts to stop young Canadians from vaping,” Hajdu said. “The message is simple—don’t vape.”

The 2020 Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey (CTNS) suggest the rapid increase of youth vaping rates between 2017 and 2019 may be levelling off.

Industry response

Those in the industry see the federal move as having little effect on anyone except former smokers. According to the Vaping Industry Trade Association, the reduction in nicotine levels and banning of flavours will “diminish the effectiveness of vaping as a reduced risk product compared to cigarettes.”

“If the government’s goal is to ensure that smokers keep smoking, then they couldn’t have proposed a better set of regulations,” said Allan Rewak, VITA Executive Director. “All these regulations will do is create more barriers for long-time heavy smokers while doing little to nothing to address the problem the federal government claims they want to solve, youth vaping.”

VITA cites San Francisco, where the government put a flavour ban in place in 2018, as a failed example. That legislation, VITA says, resulted in a doubling of youth smoking rates after years of steady reductions. Similarly, Nova Scotia introduced a province-wide flavour ban in 2019. As a result, VITA says retailers reported “a significant and sudden increase” in the sale of legal cigarettes after a decade of declining sales.

“As adult ex-smokers who switched to vaping find they can no longer legally purchase the products that worked for them in reducing risk, they will either turn to the illicit and unregulated market or return to
smoking cigarettes”, said VITA President Daniel David.

Locally, Thomas Kirsop, owner of Alternatives & Options, a vape store in Morinville and St. Albert, expressed concern that the new regulations will drive former smokers back to smoking.

“It’s grim,” Kirsop said of the impact the regulations would have on former smokers. “It’s proposed, so it’s at least a year out. But it’s grim. If I was in support of the other side, I’d have to say this is brilliant. Not only did we ban all flavours except tobacco, menthol and mint, but we went so far as to identify a very small set of flavouring compounds that can be used to create the tobacco, menthol and mint.”

Kirsop anticipates that if a flavour ban comes into effect, those who wish to switch from smoking to vaping will have somewhere between three and six varieties from which to choose.

“It’s going to shrink the market. The legitimate market,” Kirsop said of the potential flavour ban.

However, the forthcoming 20 mg/ml cap on nicotine levels will immediately affect about 40 to 50 per cent of his adult customers, and Kirsop says it could lead to increased vaping.

“If you are already vaping and I cut the nicotine in your e-liquid, what is likely to happen is you will compensate by vaping more because you’re not vaping for the nicotine that’s in the bottle. You are vaping for the nicotine that’s in the blood. So, if I cut the nicotine in the bottle, you’ll simply vape more.”

Kirsop argues that that compensatory response to a nicotine cut will have those youth looking to get a nicotine buzz from vaping using more to get the same effect.

“We go from 50 [mg] to 20 [mg], and the kid is no longer using a little stick [vaping device]. They go get a device that makes a big vapour. The more vapour they inhale, the more volume. Or they use the device longer.”

To date, the Government of Canada has spent more than $13 million in the Consider the Consequences of Vaping national public education campaign, launched more than two years ago. That campaign resulted in just 26 per cent of the teens who viewed the ads deciding not to try vaping.

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  1. I’m a vape user I started vaping 50mg but I cut my nicotine level down to 10 mg ( salt nic) and honey I would love to cut it to 5mg if it was possible, sadly there are not salt nic 5 mg. As long flavour I don’t care, for me personally I can vape no flavour one.

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