B.C.’s multi-ministry effort to crack down on youth vaping by significantly raising taxes on products has vape shop owners concerned it could lead smokers back to cigarettes.
The province’s 10-point plan, released Thursday includes hiking the provincial sales tax on vape products from seven per cent to 20 per cent and limiting the amount of nicotine in those products to 20 milligrams per millilitre.
The plan, released by the ministries of finance, health and education, will require legislation to enact and would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. If passed, it would be the first tax hike of its kind in Canada.
But vape shop owners like Sherman Brown, who runs the VaperDome in Coquitlam, says the move could backfire.
“Walking into a shop today, paying your taxes on your juice and going home and trying to quit smoking, that’s going to be a little less likely for a lot of customers,” he said.
Stacy White, who owns the Thunderbird Vape shop on Broadway in Vancouver, says she’s also worried the tax hike will turn vapers back into smokers.
“There’s a need to address youth vaping; that’s definitely a problem,” she said.
“But I don’t want to see it become a deterrent for adult smokers to try this new technology to see if it works for them, because we’ve seen it work for countless people.”
Many vape shops and manufacturers say switching from cigarettes to vape products can help smokers wean off nicotine and curb their addiction.
Health Canada still says vaping is less harmful than smoking, as many of the harmful and cancer-causing chemicals produced by cigarettes are formed by burning tobacco.
According to the ministry, vaping products typically contain only a fraction of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
However, current research has shown vaping has its own health concerns, including the release of carcinogens like Teflon due to the high heat of even legal inhalers.
Additionally, the high rates of nicotine in some vape products can increase dependency, particularly among young people.
B.C.’s own QuitNow program, in partnership with the BC Lung Association, says using e-cigarettes or vaping as a smoking cessation tool is being reviewed by the federal government and is not recommended.
Instead, it recommends nicotine replacement therapy like gum, patches or lozenges, or prescription medications like Champix.
At least three “probable” cases of vaping-related illness have been identified in B.C., with another five detected across the country.
In the U.S., thousands of confirmed and probable cases have been identified in nearly every state, and more than 40 deaths have been definitively linked to vaping products, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Brown says the higher tax rate on vape products would still drive users towards the black market, where products won’t be regulated for their nicotine content.
White is also concerned about how the tax hike would apply to batteries and other parts she sells, saying she could end up losing money as a result.
“While something like liquids and the device might make sense, there’s batteries that we sell that run some of the higher-wattage units,” she said.
“Those same batteries could be sold, say, at a computer store. My customers are just going to go to the non-vape store to buy that same product.”
In B.C., around 6,000 vendors are permitted to sell tobacco products, compared to around 90,000 points of sale for vaping products.
The province’s proposed tax hike on vaping products also comes with a two-cent increase of B.C.’s tobacco tax to 29.5 cents per cigarette and 39.5 cents per gram of loose tobacco.
The tax already raises the price on a 20-pack of cigarettes by $5.50, and the price of a 25-pack by $6.88.
— With files from Ted Chernecki and Simon Little