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Calgary debates funding for e-cig study

Plans to conduct a survey of electronic cigarette use in Calgary, Alberta, have aroused criticism from some legislators. Dr. Richard Musto, the chief medical officer for the Calgary area for the Alberta Health Service, stated that the funding, half from the city and half from the AHS, has been committed and the plan to go ahead with the study is on track. The cost of the proposed study is projected to be 25,000 CAD. “It's a legitimate thing for the city to be doing,” commented Musto, noting that e-cigarettes are potentially a major health issue, and that the city council needs the perspective that will be provided by public consultation, in case it chooses to regulate the product.

“I’m really very pleased that we’re able to partner with them on this work because we should be -- to the extent that we can -- providing the best information available to our elected officials at whatever level so they can act on our behalf.”

Provincial Health Minister Stephen Mandel disagrees. “Alberta Health Services should not be going out and doing those kinds of things at this point in time. These are difficult times, and we will talk to them about the kind of investments they’re making,” he said, possibly thinking of the warning by the province's Premier, Jim Prentice, that a decline in oil prices may punch a 7-billion dollar hole in the budget.

A spokesman for Mandel's office, Steve Buick, argued that the study would duplicate work already being done at other levels of government. The effort to formulate a concerted policy around vaping devices is being conducted nationwide, according to Buick, but he declined to answer questions about whether or not his office would actually order the AHS to discontinue its funding for the study.

Musto countered that city governments have traditionally been key players in tobacco regulation, and that it is important for all levels of government to be involved in the process.

Mandel implemented new regulations for flavoured tobacco products in the autumn of 2014, but did not take up the issue of vaping, according to Musto. “This is an evolving area,” said Musto, “. . . and I expect they will stay on top of it and make revisions as they need to.”

The proposal to fund the study has been approved by the community and protective services committee of the city of Calgary, but requires final approval from the City Council according to the Calgary Herald.