Use Of E-Cigarettes On Passenger Transport Still Unclear

The popularity of electronic cigarettes has sparked a debate on whether the battery-operated devices should be banned in bars, restaurants and other public venues where tobacco smoke is prohibited.

Air Canada made headlines this week after a businesswoman on a flight from Calgary to Toronto claims that a fellow passenger puffed on an e-cigarette in the cabin.

Transport Canada has no specific regulations, but Air Canada has a policy that forbids the use of e-cigarettes on its aircraft.

We can assure you that had the crew been aware of or alerted during the flight about the purported use of an e-cigarette on-board, they would have addressed the matter immediately with the customer, said spokeswoman Angela Mah.

The alleged incident speaks to the legislative grey area that surrounds electronic cigarette use in Canada.

The federal government faced with insufficient research on the health affects of the devices has so far refrained from regulating how the products are used or sold.

Current anti-smoking legislation, which includes an outright ban on tobacco use in bars, applies to tobacco products in the traditional sense as there is more scientific evidence as to their health impacts, said Alberta Health and Wellness spokesman Matthew Grant.

There is not a lot of health information on e-cigarettes (and) we continue to monitor studies as they are available.

For now, it is up to individual businesses to come up with their own policies. That means it might be acceptable to vape in a movie theatre but not in a shopping centre food court or bowling alley.

The Canadian restaurant industry is seeking regulatory guidance and clarity from provincial and federal authorities. Until that happens, its wait and see, according to Mark von Schellwitz.

Our position is very neutral on this we just want to know where we stand so we can direct our customers accordingly, said von Schellwitz, who serves as the western Canadian vice-president for the industry group Restaurants Canada, which represents thousands of eateries, bars, cafeterias and food service organizations.

The hope is that any prospective policy change will be made at a provincial level to avoid a confusing patchwork of e-cigarette regulations across various municipalities, he added.

But some cities including Calgary are wading into the controversial issue. City council last month ordered a study into the health risks of e-cigarettes after Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, a nurse by trade, brought forward a motion to consult with health officials on possible bylaws.

E-cigarette advocates argue that vaping is a harmless practice that acts as a safe substitute to tobacco by simulating smoking without the prospect of addiction or inhaling carcinogenic chemicals.

E-cigarette users inhale vapours, which in some cases may contain a liquid nicotine solution.

While some believe the devices should be tightly controlled, proponents say they are a safer alternative to tobacco-laden cigarettes and there is no need to hide them.

Keeping e-cigarettes out of sight of the public is like camouflaging the fire exits, said Paul Bergen, a researcher in tobacco harm reduction and a consultant for the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association, a national organization representing retailers.

The Canadian Cancer Society disagrees. It supports banning the products indoors and prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors to avoid normalizing smoking behaviour and hooking young people.

We just banned flavoured tobacco. Why would we allow such things on the market? said Angeline Webb, a senior public policy adviser for the society in Alberta.

We want to see some regulation in terms of advertising and promotion. Even if they are approved as a cessation device, e-cigarettes still normalize smoking. The big concern is they undermine smoking bans.