Federal Canadian law prohibits smoking in all indoor public spaces, including cafes, bars, restaurants and casinos. Provincial laws mirror (and in some cases reinforce) federal laws, but the law concerning electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) is less consistent. With more Canadians opting to use these electronic devices, it's important that restaurant owners enforce the law accordingly. Learn more about e-cigarette laws in Canada, and find out why some pressure groups believe that the authorities need to review these regulations.
How e-cigarettes work
In Canada and the United States, e-cigarettes are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional tobacco products. An American (Herbert Gilbert) invented a mechanical smokeless cigarette back in 1963, but the devices you can buy today only came into circulation in Canada in 2007. Between 2010 and 2011, five Canadian companies launched online sales of these products.
An e-cigarette is a simple cylindrical device that mimics a traditional cigarette without using tobacco. The device contains a water solution that includes flavours and other chemicals (and sometimes nicotine), which the e-cigarette heats up with an atomizer. This process creates a vapour that the user inhales through the tip of the device. Some devices now combine different parts into one disposable unit, but you can also buy refillable e-cigarettes.
The appeal of e-cigarettes
Smokers often turn to e-cigarettes to cut back or give up the dangerous habit. Studies show that the small dose of nicotine in an e-cigarette can help people give up smoking. 'Vaping' the e-cigarette also mimics the habit of smoking a normal cigarette, without the health risks you get with dangerous tobacco smoke.
Modern e-cigarettes also offer an alternative to new parents who don't want to smoke around their babies. Other smokers prefer to use e-cigarettes in social situations where the law now bans traditional tobacco products. As e-cigarettes do not create harmful smoke for other people, some users prefer to use them in nightclubs or restaurants, where they would otherwise have to go outside.
What the law says about e-cigarettes
Canadian law allows retailers to sell e-cigarettes, as long as the devices do not contain nicotine. E-cigarettes containing nicotine are not licensed for sale. In most parts of Canada, you can currently buy nicotine-free e-cigarettes without restriction, even if you are under the minimum legal age to buy traditional tobacco products.
Regulations do not yet limit the use of the e-cigarettes in public places, and it's generally left to a restaurant owner's discretion to decide if people can use the devices on the premises. That aside, pressure from certain health groups means that the law is likely to change in many jurisdictions.
In 2014, Toronto city council voted to ban e-cigarette use in city workplaces. The Ontario government plans to put the same restrictions on e-cigarettes as traditional tobacco products. These regulations will even ban all flavoured tobacco products. In Red Deer, smoking bylaws already include a ban on e-cigarettes. The Quebec government looks set to follow suit.
Health issues and e-cigarettes
In 2009, Health Canada advised people not to buy or use e-cigarettes, due to the health risks these devices can pose. The department warned consumers that e-cigarettes fall within the scope of the Food and Drugs Act, and the Canadian government has not yet given any products market authorization.
Health Canada warned consumers that the vapours from e-cigarettes can contain harmful chemicals. For example, propylene glycol is a known irritant that appears in many e-cigarettes. The devices also pose a choking or poisoning risk to young children. The American Heart Association also believes that e-cigarettes could encourage nicotine addiction in young people, undoing the work of extensive anti-smoking campaigns.
What this means for your business
You must make sure that your business supports local regulations. Talk to your city council or a lawyer about e-cigarette bylaws, to understand if you can allow diners to use these devices on your premises. Make sure you display notices that clearly display a ban on e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products.
Even if local laws allow e-cigarettes, you should consider what your customers want. Most people now accept that a ban on smoking in restaurants protects diners' health, and a lack of information about e-cigarettes may alienate non-smoking patrons who see other guests using the devices.
E-cigarettes can help people give up smoking, but these devices can still pose a health risk. Keep your restaurant in line with local smoking bylaws, and make sure you have (and display) a clear e-cigarette policy for diners.