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Ottawa Fumes While Canada Vapes On

Canada's regulatory authorities have been sending threatening letters to electronic cigarette retailers, and confiscating supplies at the border, but doing little else in the way of actual enforcement, according to a new article in the Ottawa Sun.

And business is, well... not exactly smokin' – shall we say "booming". Vape shops and online e-cig outlets have been proliferating from Halifax to Vancouver, leaving fretful, would-be watchdogs in Ottawa baffled and stymied.

The vaping movement has its own, feisty character in the frozen expanses of North America's better half. E-cig sellers there are disinclined to back down in the face of threats. "The maximum they've done to date is to mark any vendor who's selling nicotine e-liquid as non-compliant with their food and drug regulations," says Kate Ackerman of the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association (ECTA) of Canada. "Whether they pursue that or not, we don't know, but we do know if they do pursue it, it will land in court."

Other Canuck vapers are even more outspoken, vapers like Martin Lacombe, a former pack-a-day smoker who manages E-Steam Canada. "We know the criticism of the industry: that we're signing up people and creating a problem, not solving a problem," says Lacombe. "And I will scream from the rooftop saying that is absolutely not true." Even more important than vocalizing from elevated locations is E-Steam's penchant for self-regulation, to ensure public confidence that e-cig vendors do no harm. Lacombe's company will not sell to minors or even to non-smokers, and they eschew online sales, a notorious loophole for would-be underage vapers.

It seems that the self-restriction has not hurt business; E-Steam has grown from a single shop to a chain of 14 all across Ontario in a little over 2 years. And other Canadian vaping suppliers, such as Capital Nic Fit and Ottawa E-Smoke, do not similarly eschew Internet sales. Says Ackerman: "We're pushing for the federal government to sit down with the ECTA to join voices, get this product regulated so it can be handled properly, so these Canadian businesses can grow and smokers can have access to this alternative." The issue of whether the e-cigarette is or is not a "medical product" is an important sticking point in Ackerman's view. "Saying it's not approved, without qualifying that it's not approved as a medical product, is dishonest," she opines. "And telling a retailer they can't sell this because it's not approved as a medical product -- when it's not even sold as a medical product -- is also dishonest."

It appears that a new round of threatening letters has gone out from Health Canada, something that can be "scary", according to Ackerman. "But there's not a whole lot they can do about it right now." Attitudes are changing, she observes, and although the issue may end up in the courts, for the time being no one is budging.

Meanwhile, south of the border, down Washington way, signs indicate that the Food and Drug Administration is about to drop the other shoe. Watch this space.