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Vaping in Canada may cost more as of July 1. Here’s why

Click to play video: 'Is vaping tax enough to stop future generations from getting hooked?'
Is vaping tax enough to stop future generations from getting hooked?
WATCH: Ottawa says making vaping more expensive means fewer will take up the habit, which health experts warn can result in the same kind of health problems plaguing cigarette smokers. But as David Akin reports, the tax hike may not be steep enough to prevent future generations from getting hooked – May 19, 2024

Vaping could cost more this summer due to a tax increase proposed by the federal government in this year’s budget.

On July 1, the price of a vape pod will increase between 12 and 24 cents depending on where Canadians live – expected to bring in $310 million to the government over the next five years.

Ottawa says the price hike will reduce high vaping rates among younger Canadians, but public health experts say the tax misses the mark and could have unintended consequences.

Click to play video: 'Flavoured vape products especially addictive to kids, health minister says'
Flavoured vape products especially addictive to kids, health minister says

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, says while he believes this tax will help reduce the number of Canadians who vape, it is low-hanging fruit.

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“A 12 per cent increase, that’s really close to inflation over the last few years. So it’s not really much of an increase at all,” Cunningham said. “We could go much higher.”

Cunningham says the government is playing catch-up.

“It’s really frustrating, having had such difficult years step by step working to reduce smoking, that we’re having to learn those lessons and repeat those lessons all over again,” he said.

Click to play video: 'What’s in a vape? Study uses AI to help identify hundreds of toxic chemicals'
What’s in a vape? Study uses AI to help identify hundreds of toxic chemicals

While supportive of any measures to reduce Canadians smoking and vaping, Dr. Shawn Aaron, a respirologist in Ottawa, says he also thinks the government is dropping the ball.

“The federal government could go even stronger,” he said. “Now, probably, the cat is out of the bag. It’ll be hard to undo this easy access to vaping products, but government really has to do something to make this a less easy activity for young people.”

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One in 15 Canadians aged 15 to 19 vaped every day in 2022, according to Statistics Canada. Young adults vaped more than teens – with one in 10 Canadians aged 20 to 24 vaping every day that same year.

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Although some experts wish the tax was higher, others have concerns about whether it may push some Canadians to smoke.

Rahi Abouk, a professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., co-authored a study about e-cigarette taxes in the United States. The research found that every $1 increase in e-cigarette taxes results in about a 12 per cent decline in e-cigarette use, but there’s a catch.

“We noticed that the use of conventional cigarettes goes up after states adopt electronic cigarette taxes,” Abouk said.

In an effort to combat that unintentional consequence, the federal government also announced a tobacco tax increase in Budget 2024 that went into effect in April – raising the total tax an additional $5.49 per carton of 200 cigarettes. But Abigail Friedman, an associate professor of public health at Yale University who co-authored that study with Abouk, is concerned the cigarette tax may not be enough.

“The increase on e-cigarettes is substantive,” Friedman said. “But the concurrent increase on cigarettes is very small.”

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Federal budget increases taxes for tobacco, vaping'
Health Matters: Federal budget increases taxes for tobacco, vaping

The federal tax increase on a pack of 20 cigarettes works out to $3.72, whereas the vape tax equivalent totals $1.12 to $2.24 – making cigarettes in smaller quantities the more expensive option. Only when buying in bulk – a carton of 200 cigarettes and the equivalent number of vape pods – does the vaping tax become more expensive by about $5.

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But retail price differences may avoid tipping the scales in favour of tobacco. An average pack of cigarettes ranges from about $14 to $19, whereas vapes can be purchased for as low as $5 in Canada.

Cunningham said he isn’t worried about Canadians lighting up because Canada has higher rates of tobacco taxes than the United States.

“We’re far from … where those two product categories are equal in terms of retail price,” he said. “We do need to increase e-cigarette taxes. We do need to increase tobacco taxes. We can do both.”

That isn’t enough to calm the fears of Maria Papaioannoy, a member of the group Rights4Vapers, who consulted with Health Canada about a ban on vape liquid flavours.

“If this tax goes through and the flavour ban goes through, four billion cigarettes will be manufactured and put into market in the first year of a flavour ban,” Papaioannoy said.

That four billion figure extrapolates from findings in Friedman and Abouk’s research, which found that for every 0.7-millilitre vape pod not sold due to a flavour-restricting policy in the United States, 12 extra cigarettes were sold.

The Vaping Industry Trade Association estimates that based on Canadian vaping sales, that would amount to four billion extra cigarettes a year if the flavour ban and tax are both implemented.

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But Marion Burt from Toronto, a member of Rights4Vapers, says she won’t quit even if the government takes away flavours and makes it more expensive.

“I will not stop vaping because I value my health, even if the government doesn’t,” Burt said. “I will find a black market or I will make my own vape juice, which will be unregulated … in my kitchen sink.”

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Stopping smoking or vaping'
Health Matters: Stopping smoking or vaping

Burt used to smoke cigarettes, but she said the flavours in vapes helped her quit smoking. She ordered apple- and tobacco-flavoured vape products online about 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

“When it arrived, I opened the apple first and I knew from my first puff that I would never smoke again,” she said. “I tried the tobacco a week or so later and you know what? I threw it out. It was so awful. So then I went to Rice Krispie Treats and berry cream and all sorts of flavours.… I love the variety.”

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The Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey found Canadians aged 15 to 24 reported vaping with a fruit flavour most often and nearly half of all adults aged 25 and older also reported using a fruit flavour the most.

In June 2021, the federal government said it would propose regulations to prohibit flavours from being added to e-cigarettes, except for mint and menthol. However, in 2024, there is still no federal flavour ban.

While vaping is marketed to be less harmful than cigarettes, Aaron says it carries serious health concerns.

“Vaping is associated with some awful diseases,” Aaron said. “And people who start vaping are at risk for continuing to vape nicotine, but also at risk to start smoking cigarettes.”

Because it can take several decades to see symptoms of long-term complications, Aaron says it isn’t known if vaping is safer than smoking. He’s hoping the government will act before it’s too late to reverse course.

“As we discover the chronic, long-term bad health effects of vaping, there will be an urgency for the federal government to intervene even more.”

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