News / Ottawa

E-cigarettes with nicotine illegal, but shops still selling product

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It’s a rainy Sunday and Karim Yassine takes a puff from his lime green electronic pipe.

He doesn’t smell like a cigarette, as he exhales a large cloud of vapor into the air.

It’s his E-cigarette and it has helped him nearly give up regular cigarettes altogether.

But what most people don’t know is that Yassine, and the thousands of other Canadians choosing E-cigarettes over true darts, are actually puffing an illegal product.

Nicotine juice is not legal for sale in Canada, meaning the many E-cigarette shops popping up across the country selling the juice are actually breaking the law, according to Health Canada.

“E-cigarette products, including e-liquids, that contain any amount of nicotine or have a health claim fall within the scope of the Food and Drugs Actand require approval by Health Canada before they can be imported, advertised or sold in Canada,” said Health Canada Spokesperson Gary Holub.

No such products have been approved to date.”

Yassine works as a consultant at Electronic Cigarette Ottawa, where he says he is helping more and more Canadians kick the habit of smoking for a healthier alternative. But a lack of scientific data into the new vapor pens and pipes has Health Canada concerned.

Owner of the Dalhousie Street shop Nicholas Ethier is aware that he is technically breaking the law. He has had numerous nicotine juice shipments stopped at customs and is working with local chemists to open an extraction lab in Canada.

But Ethier believes in the product so much and believes it is saving Canadians’ lives, that he isn’t about to shut his doors because Health Canada hasn’t approved it.

“All my life, I have been telling smokers to quit,” Ethier told Metro, adding that E-cigarettes are “300-400 times cleaner” then regular cigarettes.

“Now I have a product that can actually help. I am finding more and more people are quitting.”

Enforcement is “complaint-driven and risk-based”

There isn’t much enforcement coming down from the Feds, as Health Canada simply waits for specific complaints, then works with retailers to find a solution. Health Canada, to date, has issued several stop sale letters, public communications and refusal of shipments at the border.

In 2013, Health Canada recommended that 2,555 commercial/personal shipments be refused at the border. Ethier says he has not received any demands from the feds.

Health Canada is monitoring E-Cigarette use in Canada and is sifting through tons of international literature and scientific data to determine its next move with the product. But for now, they are simply telling Canadians not to use the product they know little about.

“To date there is not sufficient evidence that the potential benefits of e-cigarettes in helping Canadians to quit smoking outweigh the potential risks,” added Holub.

What's it like to smoke an E-cigarette?

 Smoking an E-cigarette feels like using a hookah, says Metro reporter Trevor Greenway.

Smoking an E-cigarette feels like using a hookah, says Metro reporter Trevor Greenway.

I don’t smoke very much, but I certainly used to.

I am down to being a social smoker – having a few darts at parties.

I have always been curious about E-cigarettes, so when asked to write about the latest craze, I quickly jumped on board.

When I first entered the Electronic Cigarette Ottawa shop on Dalhousie, I was greeted by owner Nicholas Ethier and his “vapor consultant” Karim Yassine. He pulled out a kit and began filling the vaporizer with a liquid he said it was a mix of nicotine and pomegranate flavouring.

I puffed away and was reminded of the first time I puffed on a hookah. The vapor didn’t hurt my lungs; didn’t burn and tasted delicious. I quickly asked if I would smell like a cigarette and they said “No.”

They were right.

I took a couple more puffs, before trying several different flavours – Orange, chocolate cheesecake and straight up pure nicotine.

My first reaction was that this product seemed like a great alternative to smoking. It doesn’t harm non-smokers and seems cheaper.

But I began wondering what was really in that liquid. Where did it come from? Ethier said the nicotine juice is “300-400 times cleaner” than cigarettes. I began to worry. I had no idea what I had inhaled. Then I remembered how many cigarettes I smoked since I was 16 – and the unknown chemicals I inhaled in the process.

E-cigarettes seem like a good option for smokers looking to save cash and their lungs, but there is too little scientific data out there yet to be sure.

Puff at your own risk, people.

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