An electronic cigarette is a device which, when activated, heats a liquid and transforms it into an aerosol that is then inhaled. When the aerosol is inhaled, it is also called vaping. Unlike conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco and are not burned.
According to the 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 15% of Canadians said that they had tried electronic cigarettes. In Québec, this figure was 17%.
Most liquids used in electronic cigarettes contain:
- solvents or bases (propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin);
- artificial flavours or aromas (e.g., strawberry, mint, vanilla, tobacco, etc.);
The liquids or the aerosol may also contain other chemicals.
Electronic cigarettes are also known by the following names:
- low-resistance electric vaper (sub-ohm);
- vape pen;
- tank system;
- electronic nicotine delivery system;
Risks associated with nicotine
Most vaping liquids contain nicotine. People can quickly develop a strong dependence on this substance, especially young people. Dependence can develop even if the person only uses electronic cigarettes with nicotine occasionally.
When used by young people, nicotine can have harmful effects, especially on the developing brain. Nicotine can affect memory and concentration and lower impulse control.
Risks associated with vaping
Vaping is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary illness. If you vape, monitor yourself for symptoms of pulmonary illness, such as cough, shortness of breath or chest pain. If you develop these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. For more information about the risk of pulmonary illness, consult the mise en garde relative au risque de maladie pulmonaire sévère associée au vapotage (warning about the risk of severe vaping-related pulmonary illness) published by the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.
Little is known about the other long-term effects of vaping on health. The ingredients in vaping liquids, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, are generally safe to eat, but not necessarily safe to inhale.
The aerosol produced during vaping contains chemicals that are generally less harmful than tobacco smoke. These chemicals are not, however, without risk.
The many types of devices and ingredients and their rapid development make conducting studies on the health risks of electronic cigarettes challenging.
Electronic cigarette use among adolescents and young adults
In Québec, the sale and purchase of electronic cigarettes are prohibited for anyone under 18 years of age. However, their use among adolescents has been growing in the past few years. According to the 2013 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 6% of high school students in Québec reported using electronic cigarettes in the last 30 days. According to the same survey conducted in 2017, this figure had increased to 10%.
The range of flavours available is appealing to young people. But apart from flavouring, most electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, sometimes more than in a regular cigarette. Yet many young people think that vaping is not a health risk.
An increasing number of vaping devices with high nicotine levels are sold on the market. Vape pod systems are a type of electronic cigarette that is of concern due to its high concentration of nicotine and its size which makes it easy to carry and easy to hide given its resemblance to a USB flash drive. This product, very popular among young Americans, first appeared in Canada in fall 2018.
Electronic cigarette use among young people could be a risk factor for smoking initiation. Several studies show that young non-smokers who use electronic cigarettes are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes one or two years later than if they had not used electronic cigarettes.
Stop smoking aid
Many people think that electronic cigarettes are an effective stop smoking aid. According to the World Health Organization, there is insufficient data to support this. Some studies show that using electronic cigarettes could help some smokers stop smoking. Others show that their use could make it harder to quit smoking. The dual use of electronic cigarettes and combustible products, such as cigarettes or cigars, is not recommended, for it could increase the health risks.
Québec adopted the Tobacco Control Act in November 2015. Under this Act, electronic cigarettes with or without nicotine are subject to the same provisions as tobacco products with respect to their sale, promotion, advertising and where they can be used. The regulation prohibits:
- the sale of electronic cigarettes to anyone under 18 years of age;
- the online sale of electronic cigarettes;
- electronic cigarette advertising (except advertising in newspapers or magazines that have an adult readership of not less than 85%);
- the display of electronic cigarettes in retail outlets accessible to people under 18 years of age;
- access to specialty vape shops for anyone under 18 years of age;
- the use of electronic cigarettes in places where smoking is prohibited.
Adding flavours to the liquids used in electronic cigarettes is, however, permitted by law, whereas it is prohibited for tobacco products.
Anyone who does not comply with the regulations on electronic cigarettes may be subject to a fine. For more information, to make a complaint or to report a case of non-compliance, please contact the Directions de l’inspection et des enquêtes at the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. You will find the contact information in the section Demandes et plaintes concernant la Loi concernant la lutte contre le tabagisme (in French only).
Electronic cigarettes are regulated by the federal government under the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act . For instance, this regulation, which came into force in May 2018:
- prohibits the use of certain ingredients in their manufacture
- prohibits the promotion of flavours that appeal to young people;
- sets out rules for product and packaging labelling;
- establishes restrictions on advertising and promotion.
Last update: November 8, 2019