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Opinion: Views on vaping are softening in post-pandemic Canada

Poll shows greater use of vaping products, less support for tougher restrictions.
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Almost one in five Canadians acknowledge say they have vaped in the past year, including just over a quarter of those aged 18 to 34.

In 2018, Health Canada took some major steps to deal with the use of vaping products across Canada. The measures, which arrived after news stories in the United States focused on a marked increase in the consumption of these products by young Americans, were well received by Canadians.

In the early years of this century, electronic cigarettes were regarded as a welcome option for people who were trying to quit smoking. However, the emergence of vaping products that actually delivered nicotine into our bodies was lost in an improperly designed regulatory framework. It took jurisdictions all over North America years to figure out how to establish proper guidelines.

The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic kept many Canadians away from offices may have led to the assumption that fewer people are vaping. We did not see many co-workers with electronic cigarettes near doors or followed clouds of scented vapour as we marched along sidewalks.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their vaping habits earlier this month, the results outlined a spike in specific groups and regions. When we last reviewed this topic in September 2020, only 10 per cent of Canadians had used an electronic cigarette in the preceding 12 months, with the numbers climbing to 19 per cent among those aged 18 to 34 and to 14 per cent among residents of British Columbia.

This year, almost one in five Canadians (17 per cent) acknowledge having vaped in the past year, including just over a quarter of those aged 18 to 34 (26 per cent) and 21 per cent of British Columbians. Across each one of these three groups, the proportions are seven points higher in 2022 than they were in 2020.

The nationwide jump in consumption is accompanied by a slight rise in skepticism. We continue to see majorities of Canadians who believe that the federal government struck the right chord when finalizing the rules for this industry, but not as ardently as before. For instance, more than four in five Canadians (82 per cent) think prohibiting the sale of vaping products to minors is a good idea, down four points since 2020.

Support for three other regulatory measures related to vaping is not as strong as it was in 2020. Almost two-thirds of Canadians are in favour of restricting the use of testimonials and “lifestyle” advertising for vaping products (65 per cent, down 10 points) and restricting any reference to e-cigarettes as healthier than standard tobacco products (64 per cent, down 13 points). In addition, 58 per cent of Canadians (down 11 points) believe the decision to ban certain flavours of vaping products, such as cannabis and “confectionery,” was the correct one.

While Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to question the value of these regulations on flavours, access and advertisements than their older counterparts, the level of disagreement is not near majority territory. British Columbia is an interesting case. Though B.C. is the province where more people have vaped, the level of support for the federal government’s actions is at or near the top when compared with other Canadian regions.

We continue to see significant proportions of Canadians who appear to look at vaping as an extension of cigarette smoking, but the numbers are lower. More than four in five Canadians (82 per cent, down five points) think vaping products that contain nicotine should display a warning, similar to the one used for tobacco products. In addition, just over seven in 10 Canadians (71 per cent, down six points) believe there should be a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is prohibited.

Even on a purely sociological matter, the trend is more favourable towards vapers. Half of Canadians (50 per cent) say they would not consider dating a person who used electronic cigarettes, down six points since 2020.

If you are an e-cigarette user, your chances of finding a suitable companion are worse in Ontario, where 55 per cent of residents would not go out with you. The proportions are lower in British Columbia (52 per cent), Alberta (49 per cent), Atlantic Canada (47 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (also 47 per cent) and Quebec (45 per cent).

In 2018, when few could have predicted that the world would experience a pandemic, vaping was an issue that required immediate attention. Health authorities across Canada are no longer devoting as much time to this topic. Our latest look at the state of affairs outlines some key trends. More people are vaping now than in 2020, and the perceptions of Canadians on the practice are not as negative as they used to be. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 16 to April 18, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.