Call to Action: B.C.'s Intention Paper

January 12, 2020

Call to Action: B.C.'s Intention Paper

In addition to existing regulations on vaping in B.C. and a substantial 20% excise tax, the British Columbian government quietly announced further planned restrictions just ahead of Christmas. The public comment period is almost at a close with many in the public, and many retailers, being unaware of the proposed restrictions. As the deadline for comment is January 24th at 4:30 p.m. it is imperative to spread the message as far and wide as possible to retailers and consumers alike. 

Here are the points, summarized. (See BC’s Vapour Products Intentions Paper for full document.)

  1. Prescribe nicotine as a health hazard and prohibit the sale of 0 nicotine and non-cannabis containing e-liquids. 
  2. Restrict nicotine levels to 20 mg/ml and limit sales of atomizers/pods to those with a capacity of 2 ml or less. They will also limit e-liquid sales to childproof containers of 10 ml.
  3. Notification of health authorities and/or Ministry if selling nicotine vaping products so that enforcement can target their activity. Operators (sellers of vaping products) will fall into one of two newly created classes: Class 1: all ages store (e.g. grocery store) or Class 2: restricted age store (e.g. vape shop). Rules will be defined for each category.
  4. Class 1 operators will only be able to sell tobacco flavoured e-liquids or pods. Class 2 operators will be able to sell tobacco and other flavoured e-liquids, pods, or vapor products. Neither class 1 or 2 operators will be permitted to sell any products that imply an association with (by flavour or name) confectionary, dessert, soft drink, or energy drink. The province is considering extending this to food and beverage flavours. Again, no 0 nicotine e-liquids will be permitted.
  5. Plain packaging and warning labels on all e-liquids and products containing e-liquids. 
  6. In addition to existing restrictions on advertising, new regulations will strengthen restrictions to ensure that no advertisements are seen in any place that children or youth might see them. Restrictions will also apply to marketing and describing of flavoured vape products. 

There are considerable ramifications for each of these proposals. Let’s handle them one at a time and then summarize with how you can have an impact. Skip ahead to the final two paragraphs if you don’t want the breakdown.

The first intention, to define nicotine as a health hazard (outside of products “authorized under other legislation”, meaning patches, gum, etc.) comes as a surprise. While nicotine has been described as potentially addictive and poison if ingested directly in certain quantities (don’t drink nicotine) we have not had any government propose to classify it as a health hazard. It is difficult to say what this may portend going forward, outside of this current set of proposals. 

The second part to the first statement is equally surprising, if for different reasons. The government suggests that (unspecified) research indicates that young people are taking up vaping without nicotine or cannabis and proposes to ban any e-liquids that don’t contain nicotine or cannabis. I am genuinely confused by this. Any reasonable person knows that completely eliminating youth uptake of any substance is the stuff of dreams, so is the government honestly suggesting that they would prefer youth go straight for products containing nicotine or cannabis? It’s a very strange proposal. 

Further, it penalizes adult consumers who for whatever reason prefer zero nicotine (be it they’ve stepped down their nicotine 0, or they’re using vaping to manage stress or other reasons but don’t want the nicotine or cannabis, etc). For many people, this is the last step in weaning a nicotine dependence. The British Columbian government would eliminate this, forcing people to either choose nicotine (or cannabis) or nothing at all. 

The second intention is to restrict nicotine availability in vaping products, both in milligrams available and in containers. There are multiple potential outcomes that I don’t believe the government has fully considered with this proposal. The first obvious point is that 20 milligrams may not be enough to entice current smokers, particularly heavy smokers, to make the switch. I know that this is a contentious point within the vape community, with many years long vapers believing that 20 milligrams is more than sufficient but bear in mind that we had access to 24 milligrams in the early days and many of us were dual users to compensate for the drop in nicotine. Yes, 20 mg will suffice for some but to fall back on “either 20 mg is good enough or you’re out of luck” is unfortunately similar to the old “quit or die” adage: either pick what we say works or don’t, up to you. If vape shops didn’t know that higher nicotine options were effective for some consumers, they wouldn’t carry them- right? An option that compares favourably to a cigarette in nicotine levels should be available to adults; that’s only reasonable.

The other immediate point that jumps out is that if the containers are limited to ten millilitres, we are going to have an awful lot more plastic waste on our hands. An unexpected suggestion from environmentally conscious B.C.. We might also reasonably expect that consumers will increase their nicotine levels rather than the traditional progression of stepping down that vape shops in particular encourage. If a consumer has to purchase their e-liquid in tiny bottles, many will choose to go with fewer bottles in a higher nicotine strength. I would. Personally, I would rather switch from the 3 mg that I currently use to 20 mg, the highest I could get, so that I don’t have to buy as many bottles. It would also influence the types of devices that I use because dripping 20 mg is not advisable. 

Manufacturers will also have to decide whether to produce ten milligram bottles for the sole use of the British Columbian market as the ten ml bottles fell out of favour long ago with consumers and aren’t prevalent in any other market. I suspect many manufacturers will not seek to fill this (relatively) tiny but costly void, leaving room for the black market. The best case scenario is that consumers D.I.Y., which is not a desirable outcome for retailers and not attractive to many consumers either. And finally, it will disadvantage British Columbian retailers in that they won’t be able to carry popular hardware options that accommodate more than two millilitres of e-liquid. It’s 2020, we live in an online world, consumers will obtain the products- they just won’t get them from legitimate operators inside of B.C.. 

The third point is self-explanatory: registration with and classification by the government will allow for targeted enforcement and regulation and will likely lead to licensing fees down the line. 

The fourth point has got to strike fear into the heart of every vaper and vape shop owner. The government proposes to eliminate all candy, dessert, soft drink, or energy drink flavours. While the soft drink and energy drink categories are already limited in their offerings (I can’t think of an energy drink flavoured e-liquid off-hand though I have tried a remarkably good root beer flavour), candy and dessert flavours are extremely popular. Further, “The province is considering extending this to food and beverage flavours.” What would that leave us with outside of tobacco? Leather? Oak? So long as it is not described in attractive terms, because that would be prohibited as well. 

Eliminating flavour options would have a tremendous impact. Vaping is looking to displace smoking, a habit that many find difficult to quit if they consider the option at all. While vaping does simulate the sensation and habit of smoking, the one area that it beats smoking on outright is flavour. Everything else still requires the commitment and willpower to make the switch. It is almost as good as smoking, at best. It beats cigarettes in the flavour category alone. Removing flavour options outside of tobacco would have disastrous effects, both on switch rates and on current vapers who would be forced either into the black market or into D.I.Y., making criminals of them in the process as they would have to obtain the supplies through illegal means.  

Point number five, plain packaging and warning labels on all e-liquids and products containing e-liquids, is pretty straightforward. E-liquid manufacturers and retailers will have to sell products in plain packaging, on top of not being able to describe their product. It will definitely level the playing field for e-liquid manufacturers selling product within B.C. as they will all appear at first glance as tiny bottles of dangerous poison.

The sixth point contains both contentious and non-controversial points. Limiting marketing in public spaces has long been accepted (indeed lobbied for by segments of) much of the vape industry. It will limit public acceptance of vaping as an alternative to smoking, making it seem illicit, but the trade off has largely been accepted. Restricting the description and marketing of flavours is a whole other subject. The government seems intent on making sure that we cannot tell consumers what they are purchasing or why they might want to purchase it (or not). But it seems this is just on the road to banning food and beverage flavours altogether so I’m not even clear why this is necessary. I’m surprised that there are absolutely no consumer protections considered where vapers are concerned, but they’re not. Think of the last time you bought something not knowing what it was, having been told by the seller that they couldn’t tell you. It’s just bizarre. 

As mentioned, the deadline for comment is January 24th at 4:30 p.m.. Having spoken with a good number of people, it is obvious that many within the vaping community and industry itself aren’t aware of the government’s intentions. One can only conclude that the B.C. government wants to limit the public responses it receives. That makes sense: they seem to have a plan to eliminate vaping, if by indirect means. But if you vape, if you work at or own a vape shop, if you are a manufacturer, or if you work in community health or harm reduction- it is imperative you make your concerns known now. 

You don’t have to write a treatise on the subject, as I realize I am prone to do. You can keep your points short and to the point. Tell them the perspective you are coming from: are you a shop owner, a vaper, the spouse of a smoker or ex-smoker, a health advocate. Tell them which points concern you and why. Tell them how these proposals will affect you or the people you care about. Try to avoid going off on “big pharma” or “big tobacco” as it has the tendency to weaken the overall argument. You can discuss how you expect these restrictions will benefit entrenched pharmaceutical options (with a dismal 8% or less success rate) and tobacco companies without resorting to terms that will put the reader off. And then tell them that you look forward to hearing back from them. 

And spread the word: tell your local vape shop, just in case they haven’t heard. Tell your family members who might be willing to speak up on your behalf. Tell other vapers that you talk to in forums or on other social media. The government will take a lack of responses as apathy or as agreement- we need as many responses to get through as possible. 

You can contact the government by email at or by mail at the address below.

Health Protection Branch 

Ministry of Health 

PO BOX 9646 Stn Prov Govt 

Victoria, BC 

V8W 9P1 

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