British Columbia will significantly hike the provincial sales tax on vaping products and strictly limit their nicotine content in an effort to crack down on youth vaping.
Health Minister Adrian Dix, Finance Minister Carole James and Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the province’s 10-point plan on Thursday.
“We’re taking specific actions in I think what is the most significant program in any jurisdiction in Canada with respect to this question,” said Dix.
James said the new tax rate would hike the PST on vape products from seven per cent to 20 per cent.
“Yes it is a big tax jump, and one that really signifies the urgency of this problem. We all know that youth are particularly price sensitive,” said James.
“And so when you make a product more expensive and harder to access, use will decline.”
The tax hike, which will also include a two-cent hike on tobacco, will require legislation to enact, and would be the first tax of its kind in Canada.
The plan would also see nicotine content in vaping products limited to 20 milligrams per millilitre.
It will also strictly regulate the sale of flavoured vape products. Flavours appealing to youth will be banned outright, while other flavours will only be available in adult-only stores.
“Why do youth vape? Well, for many reasons. Among them, youth tell us because their friends do, but also because they want to try the different flavours,” said Vancouver Coastal Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dewar.
“With names like cotton candy, apple fritter, pink lemonade, ect., flavours are the hook that entice youth. They also mask the bitterness of nicotine, and youth believe because liquids taste and smell good they must also be safe. But vaping is harmful.”
The province is also planning new labeling requirements, which include plain packaging with health warnings.
And it will introduce new restrictions on advertising, including restrictions on bus ads, retail store windows, and billboards.
Fleming said the province will also roll out a youth-led anti-vaping social media campaign, supported by resources in schools.
“We know that education is key to inform students about the dangers of tobacco and vaping, and and we know that schools are places that should be safe for kids each and every day,” said Fleming.
He said the campaign’s focus will rely heavily on young people to de-glamorize vaping among their peers.
“I think that young people are wanting to be willing participants in taking on the idea that vaping harmless and some of the pervasive myths that unfortunately have been largely unchallenged, that it’s somehow a safe alternative to smoking,” he said.
Dix said he has also spoken with his federal counterparts, and has pressed Ottawa on the need for new national regulations.
“It’s not just about us. The federal government has a significant role to play and significant jurisdiction,” said Dix.
“They’ve consulted on regulations now for more than a year, and we are very optimistic and hopeful that the federal government will take action soon, that they’ll follow British Columbia, that they’ll look at our standards, and they’ll make sure that national standards exist.”
The opposition BC Liberals applauded the new legislation, though said it had taken the NDP too long to act.
“It is encouraging to see the government recognizing vaping as a major health issue,” said Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone in a statement.
“After months of calling for aggressive action to combat youth vaping in B.C. and the introduction of my Private Member’s Bill on the issue last spring, it is reassuring to see the government finally taking my concerns — and those of medical professionals and parents across the province — seriously.”
Stone said he still wants to see a complete ban on flavoured vaping products.
The popularity of vaping among teens has been a growing concern in B.C. and around the world, amid a surge in cases of vaping-related illness.
At least three “probable” cases have been identified in B.C., with another five detected across the country. In the U.S., several dozen cases have been identified.
In B.C., around 6,000 vendors are permitted to sell tobacco products, compared to around 90,000 points of sale for vaping products.