With electronic cigarettes becoming more common, the City of Toronto could become the first jurisdiction in Canada to limit their use.
Dr. David McKeown, the city’s medical officer of health, recommends that unless the province steps in with regulations, Toronto should “prohibit e-cigarette use in Toronto wherever smoking is currently prohibited under local or provincial legislation.”
That would mean no more puffing at your desk while the smokers trudge outside.
Toronto Public Health says it’s concerned about the safety of e-cigarettes and whether they might encourage youth to take up smoking, but the insistence on treating e-cigarettes like their tobacco equivalent could limit a relatively harmless activity for thousands of people.
There might be good reason the federal and provincial governments haven’t addressed this threat. E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a mist that can be inhaled as an alternative to smoking tobacco, but other cartridges simply contain flavoured liquid known as juice or e-juice. Those who take up “vaping” may do so as a means to kick a smoking habit or simply as a hobby.
E-cigarettes don’t release the same harmful carcinogens into the air as tobacco smoke, and although there still isn’t a huge body of research into their risk, it might be too soon to declare them as bad as Marlboros.
While Health Canada has advised Canadians “not to purchase or use electronic smoking products” due to lack of safety testing, e-cigarette supplies are widely available online, as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration has only proposed limiting sale of nicotine e-cigarettes to minors, but avoided restrictions on advertising and other activities that are banned for tobacco.
But despite the growing popularity of “vaping,” legal and social norms have not kept up. For example, should vaping be allowed indoors given that there is no second-hand smoke? Do flavours like “cherry crush” entice kids to take up a habit that may lead to worse things down the road? Should we even care what other people do with their bodies, as long as they aren’t harming others?
These are questions that even avid e-cigarette users are pondering. ChurnMag.com, a website devoted to the growing e-cig community, even has a blog post titled “9 Ways You’re Probably Damaging the Vaping Movement and Making Us Look Like Idiots.” The list includes such faux-pas as vaping in movie theatres, being condescending to smokers and blowing vapor in someone’s face.
The most pressing question on e-cigarette use, obviously, is whether people should worry about someone blowing strange vapour into the air nearby. That has clearly prompted Toronto’s health officer to suggest moving it all outside. But the only known risk at the moment seems to come from the liquid cartridges typically filled with propylene glycol, a common chemical found in food products. There is some evidence that the vapour can cause irritation in the airways, but not much else.
While almost certainly safer than “analogs,” as vaping fans sometimes call tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarette use has led to an increase in calls to poison control in the United States, most often children suffering from nicotine poisoning after getting their hands on the cartridges. Also, the devices have been known to explode while charging.
But those cases are outliers. The vast majority of e-cigarette users vape safely, even if they do look a bit silly puffing on what look like futuristic pens.