Huffing and Puffing: Bringing the Tobacco Industry Down
In the fiery summer of 2023, the provincial government announced a new law: as of October 31st, flavoured vapes will be banned. By the time this issue will be out, the ban will have already been applied. Modifications will be made to “Vaping paraphernalia” in hopes that it will be perceived as “less attractive” to potential clients. Christian Dubé, Quebec’s Minister of Health, explains the decision as a way to dissuade young people, especially minors, from consuming nicotine products. With this decision, Quebec will follow New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest territories.
In the Institut de la Statistique du Quebec’s annual Health Report Card, despite cigarette smoking behaviours declining, vaping has been on the rise amongst young people. In the 15-24 age range, 19% reported vaping in the past 30 days, and 9% use vapes either “daily” or “almost daily”. This contrasts with the general population, since only 6% have used e-cigarettes in the last month, and half of that group only uses them frequently. This is not a coincidence since vaping companies gear their advertising towards kids. Due to the lack of regulations, companies such as Juul were able to sell their products as a healthier, cooler alternative to the tired old cigarettes.
Health experts have applauded this law, due to vaping’s health risks. Neil Johnston, president and CEO of the Manitoba Lung Association, urges other provincial governments to examine this issue closely, and perhaps put in regulation similar to what we have in Quebec.
What was unexpected, however, is the pushback that came from some advocacy groups. The New Brunswick manager of the Anti-Tobacco Coalition, Kristin Farnam, believes that the flavored vape ban instituted in September 2021 was not as effective as it was supposed to be, blaming vape shops for not properly implementing the new regulations. In the province, youth vaping rates are unfortunately still rising.
Smokers and vapers are also unsure of the law’s efficiency, specifically when it comes to making people quit. Dawson College claims to have a smoke-free campus since 2018, yet the infamous “smoker corner” still remains. It is still heavily frequented, and sometimes the smell of cigarettes can even seep its way inside the building from the Maisonneuve entrance.
A former 19-year-old Dawson student, who wishes to remain anonymous, maintains that the only way for a smoker to truly quit is if they personally want to themselves. Ultimately, no ban by the government will be able to make someone quit if they do not want to. She began vaping at 17 years old, but purchased her first vape legally at 18. While she concurs that the flavors played a part in her shift from cigarettes to vaping, it was not what maintained her habit. In her opinion, it is more convenient compared to smoking, since you can do it anywhere at any time. Even if vaping may seem that way at first, it quickly becomes a costly activity. It is also harder to track how much you vape, as it is impossible to visualize it compared to cigarettes. However, she does not believe a ban is the answer. She believes in a less aggressive solution, where young people are educated about the risks and health consequences of vaping. Additionally, she believes addressing the underlying causes behind vaping, such as anxiety or depression, could help decrease rates. She points out that when quitting, one can feel closed off from their close friends who smoke, even if there are no external pressures. The addiction never truly disappears and it all boils down to one's willpower. She says she will gravitate more towards cigarettes as a result of the ban, since the amount consumed can be monitored better than with vapes. However, she does have intentions of quitting altogether eventually as it has impacted her health significantly.
In another interview, a 19-year-old student in Dawon’s Social Service program redirects the conversation to pressing social issues. They believe this ban came too late, as many young people who started vaping back when vapes first came out are now adults who can legally purchase tobacco products. They assert that all this will do is create an illegal market or have people travel to other regions where flavored vapes are still legally sold. They began vaping at the age of 14, with an e-cigarette purchased by an adult and have not quit ever since. However, in their mind, the flavours were more of an “added bonus.” Since they have no intention of quitting, this ban idea falls flat. If the Quebec government wanted to do something about addiction, they believe that the government should invest more money into social services, pay their workers, and also address other underlying causes, such as homelessness.
This is not the first time a narcotic product has been banned, nor will it be the last. Will teenagers finally give it up and go back to a tobacco free lifestyle, or will this ban only create a massive gap for contraband sales? While historical examples such as the Prohibition could help us determine the answer to that question, only time will truly be able to tell.