News / Ottawa

View e-cigarettes as harm reduction, not health risk: Prof

University of Ottawa professor says Health Canada is moving the wrong way on vaping

David Sweanor, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, says the federal government is taking the wrong approach to vaping.

Metro file

David Sweanor, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, says the federal government is taking the wrong approach to vaping.

Health Canada is wary of e-cigarettes and the City of Ottawa is banning them where they can, but one Ottawa smoking researcher says it’s the wrong move.

“My goal is to reduce death and disease. The problem is smoke, not the nicotine. If we can give people nicotine without the smoke we largely solve the health problem,” said David Sweanor, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa.

Sweanor has worked in the tobacco control field since the 1980s and views e-cigarettes as an evolution in technology that could help addicts.

But not everyone agrees with him.

Health Canada has been slow to regulate e-cigarettes. In 2009 the organization advised Canadians to not use electronic cigarettes and banned the sale and import of products containing nicotine.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive and toxic substance, and the inhalation of propylene glycol is a known irritant,” reads a release from the organization.


Despite the official ban, products are still widely available in Ottawa and the rest of the country.

Sweanor wants public health officials to approach e-cigarettes as a harm-reduction method instead of cataloguing vaping as an equally dangerous health risk.

“There’s a lot of people who have an abstinence-only moralistic view,” he said. “They see smoking and smokers as sin and sinners. It’s very much like the war on drugs or trying to deal with teenage sexuality by saying no sex outside of marriage.

“An abstinence only view kills people instead of saves people,” he said. “Any barrier in the way of people using a less hazardous product has to be firmly based on science and human rights.”