As sales of e-cigarettes continue to explode, one councillor wants the city to examine the possible health risks of the popular devices.
Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart will bring a notice of motion to the council on Monday seeking a working group to look at the impacts of electronic cigarettes and whether they should be snuffed out in many of the same venues where tobacco smoke is prohibited.
Some jurisdictions in the United States, including New York City, have new legislation in place that bans the products in restaurants, bars and clubs (banning e-cigarettes indoors).
In the absence of any provincial direction on electronic smoking devices, Colley-Urquhart believes it’s important for action on the municipal level.
“To me, it’s a public health policy issue that we need to deal with,” she said. “People are promoting these as a smoking cessation substitute but a lot is unknown about the chemicals that are in them.”
With their glowing tips and exhaled mist, e-cigarettes are designed to simulate smoking. Depending on what kind of fluid cartridge — “juice” in e-cigarette jargon — they are loaded with, some deliver a hit of nicotine, while others use non-nicotine fluid in a variety of flavours.
Addiction treatment specialists, public health officials and tobacco control advocates are divided over whether e-cigarettes are useful smoking cessation aids.
In Alberta, government authorities say there is insufficient research on the health effects of battery-powered devices.
“We don’t have a policy on it yet,” Health Minister Fred Horne recently acknowledged.
“There just isn’t a lot of evidence, but we know this is something that is going to become more significant as more people use the products.”
Alberta Health Services has urged caution around electronic smoking devices, particularly those containing nicotine. In a brief report published in March 2012, the health authority warns that e-smokers can’t be sure what they are ingesting due to a “void of regulatory requirements for product design and content.”
The report cites studies done on U.S. products that found detectable levels of toxic chemicals in the vaporized liquids and variations in levels of nicotine.
But the debate continues. A different study south of the border suggests the second-hand effects of the vapour, at least, do not present the same health hazards as tobacco cigarettes.
In Calgary, stores that specialize in e-cigarettes and related products are popping up around the city.
At Vape World on trendy 17th Ave S.W., owner Alexander Sarvucci sees brisk business from people interested in trying the products, which contain flavoured liquids and vegetable glycerine.
Many are opting for them as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. “I call it a harm reduction tool. It’s something that prevents you from putting 4,000 chemicals into your body,” he said.
“I find most people are pretty accepting of them.”
Sarvucci is mystified as to why Colley-Urquhart is pushing for prohibitions on e-cigarette use.
“Obviously people shouldn’t be doing them in movie theatres where it is disrupting to others. I wouldn’t have an e-cigarette around children. But bylaws? It isn’t right,” he said.
He’d like to see cities like Calgary abstain from tougher rules until Health Canada conducts a 10-year-study.
But Colley-Urquhart believes the matter carries urgency. “There are things that people probably feel are a bigger priority,” she said.
“(But) much like the prostitution issue that I brought forward a couple of weeks ago, in the absence of the federal government or the province taking a lead on this, we need to get to work and take the lead ourselves at a community level.”
If approved, a working group would consult with AHS, Alberta Health and Wellness as well as other stakeholders and provide recommendations to the standing policy committee on community and protective services in September.
With files from The Canadian Press and the Edmonton Journal.