HALIFAX – There is confusion and concern when it comes to where electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, can and cannot be used in Nova Scotia.
The controversial cigarettes, which simulate real cigarettes, give off vapour and contain nicotine but no tobacco.
But until provincial legislation is drafted on e-cigarettes, many establishments say they are in a grey area.
The Smoke Free Places Act, which covers restaurants, schools and other public places, only pertains to tobacco.
Since e-cigarettes don’t have tobacco, they can technically be smoked anywhere, and that is where the confusion lies.
Matt MacDonald with the Economy Shoe Shop said the restaurant does not have a clear cut rule on the issue.
“There is no policy. There is no legislation. It’s just up to the manager,” he said.
“During dinner service and lunch service obviously it’s frowned upon. But Friday night, I see people in here using them all the time.”
The confusion around e-cigarettes also caught the attention of Lara Killian.
Killian was on a bus in Dartmouth a few days ago when a fellow passenger took out an e-cigarette and starting vaping on the bus. Halifax Transit prohibits the devices on its buses, ferries and terminals.
“I was concerned nobody really knew what to do. The bus driver didn’t do anything. i felt it was pretty equivalent to smoking a regular cigarette. I wouldn’t want to see that on the bus,” she said.
Killian is concerned, saying she has been seeing more and more e-cigarettes being used in public spaces.
“I’m seeing them used all the time where cigarettes are not allowed. I don’t know why somebody is using a cigarette substitution gadget should be allowed to smoke in those places,” she said.
Even e-cigarette users, like Melanie Demeester, admit to the cloudiness of the situation.
Demeester was an avid smoker for the past 20 years and just started using e-cigarettes about two months ago.
“I just assumed it was the same as cigarettes,” she said about e-cigarette policies in public places. “[But] I saw a kid using one at the mall.”
According to the municipality, without any provincial legislation, there is little it can do to respond to e-cigarettes.
“There’s no mention of e-cigarettes in [the Smoke Free Places Act]. In the absence of that, our bylaw enforcement officers can’t really do anything about a complaint of e-cigarettes,” said spokesperson Jennifer Stairs.
Stairs said that means rules surrounding the electronic devices are up to individual establishments, businesses and organizations, such as Halifax Transit.
“They can create their own policies and rules they can expect their patrons to follow while they’re on the premises. They would also then be responsible for enforcing those policies,” she said.
“It does make it difficult because it’s much easier if things are spelled out in black and white for us to follow.”
Stairs said the municipality is waiting on the province to put forward legislation before it drafts its own policy.
Some establishments, like Capital Health, are playing it safe when it comes to e-cigarettes.
Sharon MacIntosh, a health promotions coordinator with Public Health Services in Capital Health, said the health authority updated its smoking policy this year to include e-cigarettes.
“Given the fact it’s an unknown, unregulated product, we felt it would be prudent to ensure it’s not used in or on our property, around our patients, staff or visitors,” she said.
MacIntosh said she would like to see the devices treated the same way as tobacco products when it comes to legislation.
“Where you can’t use tobacco, you couldn’t use e-cigarettes. [Also] That they couldn’t be sold to minors and that you couldn’t advertise them,” she said.
“Until the evidence shows there is a benefit then certainly things could change. But until then, we’d like to see it treated exactly the same as other tobacco products.”