Just mention the phrase “electronic cigarettes” and politicians at every level seem to go berserk. “Holy non-smokes!” they cry. “We can’t allow something new and unregulated to exist in the marketplace! People might just solve their own problems without us!”
From its infancy in 2003, the e-cigarette market has skyrocketed. It is now estimated to be a $3.5 billion business worldwide. As someone who hates being accosted by sidestream smoke from burning tobacco sticks, I welcome this development. In fact, I recently spent about 90 minutes in a “vape shop” meeting with several vaping entrepreneurs. Even though two or three people were vaping nearby throughout the meeting, I experienced no discomfort. All I noticed was a slight, pleasant, fruity aroma in the air when I walked into the shop. Had people been consuming equivalent amounts of tobacco sticks in that space, I wouldn’t have been able to spend two minutes there without starting to cough and gasp for air.
Indeed, scientific studies confirm that, unlike second-hand tobacco smoke, there is virtually no risk to bystanders from second-hand tobacco vapour.
The vapers I met were former tobacco smokers. E-cigarettes had let them wean themselves off tobacco. Thousands (perhaps millions) of people are doing the same. This was more news to gladden my heart. I hate paying taxes to support the huge medical expenses caused by tobacco-related cancers and chronic diseases – some $14 billion in Canada in 2012. It’s not primarily the nicotine that harms smokers; it’s the tar and other chemical byproducts from burnt tobacco.
Another pleasant surprise is that e-cigarettes are cheaper than tobacco for vapers to get the same nicotine dose. This may be because governments impose heavy taxes on tobacco products (about $7.3 billion per year in Canada), but haven’t yet geared up to extract similar amounts from the nicotine addicts who have migrated to vaporizers. But for the addicts themselves, it is great news. A disproportionate number of smokers are concentrated in the poorer segments of society. If they can save money by substituting vaping for smoking, then they’ll have more money for other things. And if vaping helps them kick the habit entirely, their finances will improve significantly.
But despite all these clear advantages of the vaping revolution, governments have dug in their heels, seemingly determined to bring it to a screeching halt. Major cities, including Vancouver and Calgary, have adopted bylaws discouraging vaping. New Brunswick has had legislation hindering vaping since July 2015, and Ontario has enacted discouraging legislation that was originally supposed to be implemented on January 1, 2016, but has been temporarily deferred.
Federally, the Standing Committee on Health issued a report in March 2015 recommending stringent regulation of vaping.
Since 2009, Health Canada has taken the position that e-cigarettes containing nicotine are illegal. But out on the streets, Health Canada is simply being ignored. There’s a brisk trade in vaping supplies including nicotine.
Much of the new legislation might be found unconstitutional if challenged in the courts. Nicotine addicts who still use tobacco as a delivery method are suffering harm to their health that now appears to be quite unnecessary. Any government that prevents them from accessing a cost-effective harm reduction product is probably infringing upon their charter right to security of the person. That was, after all, the heart of the argument in the Insite safe drug injection case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2011: individuals have a right to harm reduction.
Unlike Insite, where the government had to provide highly regulated personnel to supervise addicts, smokers have been switching to vaping on their own initiative. Frequently, the entrepreneurs who guide them are empathetic fellow travellers, despite being profit-seeking businesses. Vapers are looking after their own well-being and promoting the well-being of others into the bargain.
And the free market – much reviled among nanny-state politicos – is making it all possible.
Troy Media columnist Karen Selick is a lawyer and commentator.