Smoking 2.0 – is vaping the new smoking?

Thomas Maier, co-owner of Vaping the Way in Regina shows us some of his most popular products. Global News

REGINA – It’s been decades since smoking commercials were pulled from Canadian airwaves, and looking back at them now most people shake their heads.

They promised things we now know are impossible, never mind completely false.

The tobacco industry was forced to stop producing the advertisements in 1972 because of overwhelming scientific evidence of the hazards of smoking. By the late 1980s Canada had adopted some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world, though it took a while to become the new normal. The laws were rolled out over five years, phasing smoking out of restaurants, movie theatres, airplanes, and even some outdoor spaces.

But these days, there’s a new kind of smoking. It’s called vaping.

Electronic cigarettes promise a “healthier” way to satisfy your craving, and business is booming. In 2014 electronic cigarettes became a $3 billion industry world-wide.

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The device is far removed from conventional cigarettes. Most have a rechargable battery that powers a microprocessor controlled atomizer which vaporizes a liquid, or “juice” in the cartridge. Once it’s heated, you inhale and exhale the same way you would with a cigarette.

And, just as cigarettes come in all types, so too do e-cigarettes. There are nearly 500 brands sold world-wide. The hardware itself can be had for as little as $50 for an entry-level kit, or as much as $300 for a high-end set.

Thomas Maier opened “Vaping the Way” in Regina last summer and has sold hundreds of vaping kits.

“Are you looking for something simple or something with adjustability to it?” Maier asks a first time customer in his shop.

The adjustments relate the the level of charge or voltage you get from a battery, how large of a inhale you can take, and how much flavour the cartridge can release.

“I hear it’s the healthier alternative to smoking, so I’ll give it a shot right?” said Ryan Schroeder after walking into Vaping the Way for the first time. His main goal is to quit smoking.

Maier sets him up with a kit, but that’s just the beginning.

“What kind of flavours do you like?” he asks Schroeder. “That’s the fun part!”

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Over at the “juice” bar there’s a variety of flavours of e-liquid for customers to sample. There’s everything from traditional tobacco flavours to chocolate to fruit. They’re sold with zero nicotine, or in six, 12, 18, or 24 milligram doses.

Schroeder is already a smoker, so he’s still looking for a nicotine hit. He starts with a juice that contains 18 milligrams of nicotine, and hopes to slowly sean himself off his addiction.

“So just press down the button, hold, and give that a puff,” Maier tells Schroeder of the first flavour he tries.

It takes a few tries for even a pack-a-day smoker like Schroeder to get the hang of it, but in less than five minutes Maier has matched his taste. But, how much does Schroeder know about what he’s inhaling?

“I think it looks safe enough,” said he said.

Safer than smoking is the general consensus, but is it actually safe?

To meet Maier and Schroeder and see the whole process unfold, watch Smoking 2.0 – Part 1

Vaping has risen in popularity so quickly that the Oxford Dictionary named it the 2014 word of the year. Definition: to suck on an electronic cigarette.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) says 62 per cent of the globe has access to some type of electronic nicotine delivery system, but the health effects are largely unstudied. Different e-cigarettes deliver different voltage options, emission levels and nicotine doses, making it hard to compare study to study. Adding to the confusion, there’s no governing body checking what’s really inside the the e-liquid that you’re actually inhaling.

“We set our own regulations in play,” said Maier. “We have to look for companies we can trust. Companies we know take dedication and effort and great safety standards towards producing juice.”

Global News tried to get inside a juice-production facility, but was turned away. We did find Cory Ruten. He’s an e-liquid manufacturer, often called a “juicer”, in Saskatchewan. He didn’t want us in his lab for sanitary reasons, and wouldn’t send us pictures, citing competition concerns. But he did talk with us over Skype.

“Stores were wanting to set up, and they wanted a Canadian supply. They were tired of dealing with waiting for stuff to clear customs and to come either from Israel or Britain or the U.S,” said Ruten of why he went into the business.

He compares his facility to a commercial kitchen.

“We work out of a purpose built building. It’s a sealed environment. We use three stages of air filtration to ensure we have completley dead air surrounding us. There’s no contamination that comes through the air supply.”

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He says his workspace contains lab-grade equipment to create consistency.

“I tried to take everything to the highest level that I possibly could for cleanliness,” he said.

But not everyone can claim purity. In 2013 the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) commissioned a study of juices in Quebec. Of the 13 products tested, nine contained ingredients not listed on the label. Even worse, of nine different products labelled “nicotine-free,” six actually did contain nicotine.

The CCS sees similarities to the tobacco industry, which for years took advantage of an unstudied market.

“They manipulated the product to make it more addictive. They marketed to women. They marketed to kids. The outright mislead consumers about the dangers of these products,” said Donna Pasiechnik with the Saskatchewan division of the CCS.

Most e-liquid contains four main ingredients:

  1. Flavouring. This is usually a simple food-grade reduction syrup.
  2. Proplyene Glycol and
  3. Pharmaceutical Glycerin. These are usually used in a combination, and these are the ingredients that create the vapour that’s inhaled. These are both approved for use by Health Canada as flavour carrying agents, additives, or in skin products. They’re most commonly used in creams, hair conditioners, shampoos, food colourings, salad dressings, and cake mixes.
    We’ve been ingesting and absorbing these products for decades, but not inhaling them. The WHO says short-term side effects of inhalation include eye and respiratory irritation, but no long-term studies are available.
  4. Liquid Nicotine. This is a regulated drug under Health Canada and is already used in various smoking cessation products. Since e-cigarettes are not approved for sale in Canada, selling nicotine-laced e-liquid is technically breaking the law. But, the consequences are minimal.

In 2013 Health Canada received 94 complaints about businesses selling nicotine-laced e-liquid. Most cases ended with compliance letters asking the business to stop selling, but production and sale of e-liquid hasn’t slowed. In fact it’s just the opposite.

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“There’s just no law yet. We’re in legal limbo,” said Ruten. “And, that’s the fear that if something got passed that negatively affected us, we could be shut down. I would love to see a printed step-by-step set of rules that we can follow and that we can achieve certification to maintain.”

The federal government has deferred the issue to standing committee – its top research branch – to be studied thoroughly before making any decisions regarding laws. There’s no word on when a decision will be made.

To see these ingredients in action, watch Smoking 2.0- Part 2.

“We should all be concerned about this,” said Pasiechnik.

The CCS has been waging war against smoking for decades. They’re worried that a wait-and-see approach to e-cigarettes will result in lost ground.

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“We’re saying, listen, there can be regulations on these products. Right up the line from owners of businesses, to municipalities, to provincial governments and right up to Health Canada,” she suggests.

Saskatchewan’s lawmakers disagree.

“I think we first need to get more details into what the product actually is,” said Health Minister Dustin Duncan.

In Saskatchewan both Warman and Martinsville have implemented by-laws that extend current tobacco laws to include e-cigarettes. That means anywhere you’re not allowed to smoke, you’re also not allowed to vape.

Neither the City of Regina nor the City of Saskatoon have plans to implement something similar. The province doesn’t either.

“At this point we don’t have a plan to open up our legislation to include e-cigarettes. Certainly our position going forward will be informed by what does come of the (federal) standing committee,” said Duncan.

Some businesses have put ‘no vaping’ policies in place, but it’s not uncommon to see someone “blowing clouds” indoors, and that’s not likely to change until legislation comes into play.

“In the meantime, we’re concerned about kids thinking these are hip, cool, sophisticated, different, edgy and become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” said Pasiechnik.

Most vape shops won’t sell to anyone under the age of 19 on principle, but there’s no law that says they can’t.

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“When you’re selling to minors you’re just promoting something that’s bad,” said Maier. His shop won’t sell to anyone under the age 18.

A 2013 study commissioned by the CCS found that nine per cent of grade six students had tried an e-cigarette. By grade 11, that number jumps to 41 per cent. In that age group most said they tried ti for fun or out of curiosity.

However, the same study found only 25 per cent of 18-24 year olds have used one, and in that group most cited quitting smoking as their motivation.

“It took me about two weeks before I ended up giving up cigarettes completely. But after that, I can’t even touch one anymore,” said Maier.

“I bought it and two weeks later I quit reaching for a pack of cigarettes,” said Ruten.

“You just have to get used to the fact that it’s not exactly smoking, but you’re getting exactly what your body wants: the nicotine. It doesn’t want the tar, the arsenic, the formaldehyde. It just wants the nicotine,” explains Maier.

He’s correct. Nicotine vapours do have fewer ingredients in them than cigarettes. Most notably, there’s no tobacco. The WHO warns though that nicotine itself may function as a “tumour promoter,” encouraging cancer calls to reproduce.

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Most studies aagree that the less exposure to toxins the better. So, if you’re already a smoker, switching to electronic smoking is “likely” less toxic, and a number of studies have shown it to be an effective way of reducing tobacco use.

“The end goal for most people is get off of nicotine,” said Maier. “It’s not for new smokers to continue or new people who are 16 to start vaping because of the fancy flavours or whatever.”

“I think it’s the next generation of nicotine enjoyment, and hopefully it makes enough changes to peoples smoking habits that it kills of the entire tobacco industry,” said Ruten. “In one generation we could go from nicotine dependence to no nicotine dependence.”

Others are not so optimistic.

“We’re really concerned with kids, young kids, being able to purchase these products anywhere that we’re going to hook another generation of people,” said Pasiechnik.

So are we weaning people off a harmful habit, or just encouraging a new one? The rules surrounding vaping are still being written, and until then the future of smoking remains up in the air.

Watch Smoking 2.0 – Part 3.