Plenty of things have happened since we last took a look at Canadian attitudes towards e-cigarettes. The curious devices that entered our conscience as welcome additions to the realm of smoking cessation products have developed into a North American health emergency.
In the United States, more than 1,800 cases of severe lung illness related to vaping have been reported. By late October, Health Canada had acknowledged five confirmed or probable cases of severe lung illness related to vaping in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
On the issue of prevention, one U.S. state has been ahead of the curve. In late September, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a temporary four-month ban on all vaping products in his jurisdiction. As expected, court challenges ensued, but the prohibition remained in place in early November.
Last year, Research Co. looked at specific aspects of vaping legislation that had been implemented by the federal government across Canada. Some of the most crucial measures – such as prohibiting the sale of vaping products to minors and restricting the use of testimonials and “lifestyle” advertising – were widely supported by Canadians.
In 2019, following the reports of severe lung illness related to vaping in North America, a large majority of Canadians (73%) surveyed would like their own province to follow Massachusetts’ lead and enact a temporary vaping ban. Across every region of the country, more than seven in 10 residents would welcome this course of action.
There is also a high level of support for implementing a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is currently prohibited (73%) and a call for action on one of the intricacies that makes this practice attractive to children: more than half of Canadians (57%) would like to see all flavoured vaping products disappear from store shelves.
There are two aspects of vaping that did not go through a significant modification. Eleven per cent of Canadians said they used an e-cigarette in the past 12 months, unchanged at the national level since 2018. As was the case before, Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to have vaped (17%) than those aged 35 to 54 (11%) and those aged 55 and over (6%).
The main difference on usage from year to year is observed in specific regions. While Atlantic Canada had the largest proportion of vapers in 2018 (15%), the level has halved (7%). Conversely, British Columbia stood in the middle of the pack last year (9%) but has now climbed to the top spot on the list (16%).
When Canadians are asked if they would consider dating a person who vapes, we continue to see half of the adult population (50%) rejecting this possibility. There is no gender gap, with equal numbers of men and women steering clear of vapers when it comes to romance. The province in Canada that has the highest number of residents who would not date a vaper is British Columbia (54%).
Among the country’s youngest adults, there are more who would walk away from an e-cigarette user (47%) than those who would perceive them as dating prospects (39%).
As we look at the recent evolution of vaping in the eyes of Canadians, there are specific issues that are remarkable. The fact that Health Canada has now established a link between the practice and severe lung illness has not made residents less willing to try an e-cigarette. The number of early adopters was low to begin with. However, the level of support for specific prohibitions is extremely high, in some cases reaching proportions usually observed only for conventional tobacco products.
The results of this survey point to a Canadian public that remains particularly unmoved by e-cigarettes. Still, a majority would welcome the opportunity to slow down this fad until its full impact on the health of users can be categorized. And, on the public policy matter of where vapers should be able to enjoy their products, most Canadians see little difference between battery-powered vaporizers and burning tobacco. •
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted October 21–23, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.