As the province comes to terms with the news of at least one probable vaping-related illness, Richmond has become the first B.C. city to take matters into its own hands.
City council unanimously agreed Tuesday to ban advertisements of vaping products in all public spaces, including transit shelters and street furniture, in order to help curb use among young people specifically.
“We don’t want there to be advertising, we don’t want there to be a presence of vaping, we don’t want to suggest the city is in any way condoning it, and we’ll stop it if we can,” Mayor Malcolm Brodie said Thursday.
Advertisements for vaping are technically allowed under Health Canada laws as long as they convey health risks. TransLink has so far refused to take down ads in SkyTrain stations amid public outcry, citing free speech legislation.
Other city councils have considered similar crackdowns on vaping, including restricting vape shops, which a Surrey councillor introduced earlier this year.
Last year, a North Vancouver school closed down its washrooms to curb youth vaping. School boards throughout the Lower Mainland have so far resisted implementing measures like vape detectors at schools.
But concerns have been rising in the wake of vaping-related illnesses, which have been linked to roughly 26 deaths in the U.S. — and now appear to have made their way to B.C.
On Wednesday, B.C.’s chief medical officer confirmed the province’s first probable case, from which the patient has since recovered.
Six other cases have been investigated. Two have been ruled out and four more are being investigated on top of the one confirmed case.
“We always had some suspicions that it wasn’t a good thing to do but it is confirmation of that,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
The B.C. government has promised additional rules around vaping, especially linked to access to young people, but has not provided any details yet.
Under the current system there are around 6,000 B.C. vendors that can sell tobacco products, compared to around 90,000 points of sale for vaping products.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says he would like to see the federal government establish restrictions on nicotine levels for vaping products and flavouring.
“It’s our expectation the federal government will take action,” Dix said Thursday. “In any event we’ll be putting forward are action plan soon.”
Health Canada released a series of proposed restrictions on vaping and related advertisements in February, which have yet to be adopted by the government.
But critics within the government say the province is moving too slowly to address the concerns.
B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone introduced a private member’s bill in April to ban flavoured vapour products, introduce tighter retail controls and roll out tougher penalties for non-compliance.
He’s now asking the NDP government to move more quickly.
“There are parents all over the province that are practically begging this government to take action,” Stone said.
“The lack of urgency on the part of the provincial government in taking action to combat this rapidly emerging health crisis is appalling.”
Brodie says he’s hopeful the province’s plans are released sooner than later, rather than waiting for Ottawa to dictate how to move forward.
“The province is in a good position to take some effective steps, and I look at them to do that,” he said.
“But in the meantime, as a city, let’s do what we can.”
— With files from John Hua and Richard Zussman