Youth vaping rates in Saskatchewan are among the highest in Canada.
Against this backdrop, the province is introducing new measures in an attempt to curb those rates.
One measure coming into force on Sept. 1 is a ban on the sale of vape flavours, with the exception of tobacco, mint and menthol flavours, anywhere but in licensed specialty vape stores.
While there is consensus within organizations that youth vaping needs to be curbed, some are questioning if the government has gone too far — or not far enough — with the measures.
The Lung Association of Saskatchewan was looking for a full ban on the selling of all vape flavours, with the exception of tobacco, in convenience stores.
“We know that that flavoured products absolutely target kids,” said Jennifer May, vice-president of health promotion and government relations with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.
May pointed to a study from Heart and Stroke on youth vaping. That study states that “nine in 10 ( 92%) young people cite flavours as an important reason why they started vaping and the same number (90%) say it is an important factor for continuing to do so.”
Anne Kothawala agrees that something needs to be done about youth vaping.
However, she calls the ban on flavours in convenience stores a “red herring” that will do nothing to reduce youth vaping rates.
“If you look at when the minister made the announcement, he specifically talked about flavours like ice cream. Flavours like ice cream or cotton candy or unicorn flavours are not flavours that you could ever purchase at a convenience store,” said Kothawala, the president and CEO of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada.
“To be clear, we want a restricted number. We’re not asking to be able to sell hundreds of flavours of vape. We just know that there are a few select, maybe five, six, maximum eight flavours that we know our adult smoking customers, who choose to make that transition, want to be able to buy.”
The Canadian Vaping Association, on the other hand, applauds the decision to restrict flavoured vape to specialty vape stores.
The association’s executive director, Darryl Tempest, said this is not an attack on convenience stores.
“What Saskatchewan has done here is they said, ‘OK, we’re trying to balance regulation, we’re trying to ensure that adults have access while restricting the access points,’” said Tempest.
“Trying to ensure that you don’t get access to this product is really important.”
That included taking measures to restrict access to youth before any regulations were brought in, Tempest said.
“It was the vape shops that in advance of any regulation said ‘age-of-majority only,’” he said.
“Restricting access will be key over the short term.”
Kothawala said while the CVA makes a valid argument, she said vape stores don’t have the same track record as convenience stores in selling restricted products, citing tobacco and lottery tickets as examples.
She said there is no evidence pointing to convenience stores as the problem for youth accessing vape products.
“Nobody has presented that evidence, not one single government, nobody has said we have a problem with you,” Kothawala said. “We know what we’re doing and our business depends on it. We are responsible businesses operating in our communities.”