A woman exhales after vaping in New York City’s Times Square during the COVID-19 outbreak in March. The federal government is seeing public comments on a proposal to lower the concentration of nicotine allowed in vaping products in Canada. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Health Canada is proposing to lower the nicotine concentration in e-cigarette products as part of an effort to decrease youth vaping rates.  

The proposal is to decrease the maximum allowable nicotine concentration from the current limit of 66 mg/ml to 20 mg/ml — the cap in the European Union (EU), health officials said Friday.

“These changes will help reduce the appeal of vaping products to youth,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a news release.

The proposed regulations also would prohibit the packaging and sale of a vaping product if the nicotine concentration on the label exceeds the new limit.

In Canada, some brands of Juul and Imperial Tobacco’s Vuse e-cigarettes have nicotine concentrations of 59 or 57 mg/ml — almost triple the standard in the EU and in the new Canadian regulation — according to the Canadian Cancer Society. 

Similar nicotine limits have already been implemented in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Quebec has announced its intention to do so.

On Saturday, the government plans to launch a 75-day public consultation on the proposed new regulations to seek feedback from Canadians. 

Rise in youth vaping

Youth vaping has “skyrocketed” in the last few years, Heart & Stroke said in a statement.

One-fifth of students in grades 7-12 in Canada vape and 34 per cent report having tried an e-cigarette.

David Hammond, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Waterloo who studies youth vaping, said that in 2019, 11 per cent of Canadian high school students reported vaping daily. 

“We have also seen an increase in the number of youth who report indicators of dependence in the last two years,” Hammond said in an email. 

Hammond said the increases coincided with the rise of high nicotine salt products, which was led by Juul and is now common in many leading vaping brands.

Nicotine salts change the chemistry of a vape product to make it easier and less harsh to inhale high nicotine levels, he said. 

Proposal criticized by industry association

The Vaping Industry Trade Association (VITA) said the effectiveness of vaping as a harm reduction tool depends on smokers having access to an alternative with enough nicotine.

“A limit of 20mg/ml is simply too low for many smokers,” Allan Rewak, executive director of VITA of Canada, said in a release on the federal government’s proposal.

Hammond said e-cigarettes can help some smokers to quit.

“While it’s possible that higher nicotine products may be more effective than lower nicotine e-cigarettes, we don’t yet have that evidence, either from e-cigarette companies or from independent studies,” Hammond said. 

Health Canada is also considering restricting flavours in vaping products and making the industry give more information about their products, including details on sales, ingredients and research and development.

The public consultation closes on March 4, 2021. 

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