One Okanagan business owner feels education is the key to cutting through the clouds surrounding the reality of vaping during ongoing regulation changes.
Troy Hnatiuk, a former cigarette smoker, picked up his first vapourizer five years ago.
He explored the device and how it worked and ended up quitting smoking in fairly short order.
“As (the industry) evolved I thought about it more and more and thought it really worked. It took the curb off smoking. I thought, this has to be the next thing,” Hnatiuk said.
He owns two Valley Vapors locations, one in Penticton and the original shop that opened in West Kelowna in 2013, when the e-cigarette business started to pick up.
“It was amazing, so many people coming up to me after I sell them an e-cig, coming back weeks later saying ‘I feel so much better, I feel great.’ It’s a cool feeling to have people feel that way and express the gratitude,” Hnatiuk said.
In 2013 the vaporizer industry was brand new, more prominent in the U.S., and products had started making their way across the border. However, for a time little was known on the effects of vapourizers, with only a handful of clinical studies taking place to this day.
Dr. Mark Eisenberg, a cardiologist and researcher from McGill University, is currently working on the first Canadian study on the use of e-cigarettes to aid in smoking cessation funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research.
The study will employ a group of smokers using e-cigarettes with nicotine, a group without nicotine and a third group will take counselling. The primary goal of the study, which is aiming for 500 patients across the country, is to analyze e-cigarettes effects on quitting smoking, but a secondary goal is clinical data on the safety of e-cigarettes. He has done prior studies on pills that have attempted to aid in smoking cessation, and Eisenberg gives talks on the subject, where word of mouth regarding vapourizers has reached him many times.
“People invariably come up after the talk and say ‘I’ve tried everything, I tried quitting over the course of decades and was never successful until I picked up an e-cigarette,’ so people are anecdotally telling us that e-cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation,” Eisenberg said. “But we have almost no data to indicate that’s the case. In medicine you really need clinical trials.”
Eisenberg said that most of the e-cigarette companies in the U.S. have been bought out by tobacco companies, and those companies are less concerned with clinical studies or regulatory approval, hence the few funded studies.
“I think the consensus is that they are not safe, but they are much safer than conventional cigarettes. So given the choice between smoking a pack of cigarettes and smoking an e-cigarette, you’re much better off smoking an e-cigarette,” Eisenberg said.
He said there is not the same kind of quality assurance in Canada as the U.S. The sale of nicotine-infused fluid and e-cigarettes is technically illegal, though you would be hard pressed to find the law enforcing that, Eisenberg said.
Hnatiuk said he sells certified e-cig liquids which are tested and verified by the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada (ECTA), formed by e-cigarette vendors with the intention of creating a single point of reference for the industry. He along with other vendors are hoping to legitimize the industry in the eyes of the public as well.
“It’s come to the point now where we are regulating ourselves properly. We are all coming together for the greater good because we know smoking is dead. Smoking is terrible for you with 100,000 chemicals after combustion. With electronic cigarettes there is no combustion,” Hnatiuk said.
Eisenberg said the situation is much like the “wild west.” The ECTA addresses that characterization on their website in hopes of ending that stigma of uncertainty.
Different strengths of nicotine in e-cigarette fluid, fluid without nicotine, variable types of vaporizing devices and all sorts of customization can tailor the experience for each customer, Hnatiuk said.
He is one of many e-cigarette shop owners that are part of the British Columbia Vapour Alliance, hoping to bring about informed regulation to the industry in the province.
“Nothing is concrete right now. I hope it does work, I want regulation. There are a lot of little shops opening up and they don’t know 100 per cent what exactly they’re doing. They are getting stuff from China and we don’t know what they are using in it and just selling it,” Hnatiuk said.
The provincial government’s Bill 14, the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act, addresses the advent of e-cigarettes and defines terms, but Health Canada has yet to provide regulation on the devices or e-cigarette liquids. In 2015 sales to people under 19 and indoor use of vapourizers were banned, but there has been little legislation regarding nicotine-infused liquids for vapourizers.
Hnatiuk said it feels like an uphill battle sometime fighting against negative publicity. There is a sense of optimism both for vendors and for those looking to quit, with Eisenberg hoping that his study can help find the elusive “magic bullet” for quitters. Nicotine gum, patches and other quitting aides have helped increase quit rates, but a successful quitter will drop the habit six or seven times before being successful, Eisenberg said.
“It’s conceivable that the e-cigarette is a magic bullet to lead to a higher quit rate,” Eisenberg said.
Not just because the devices deliver nicotine to cure cravings, but they also fit into the habits formed by smokers.
“A lot of things you can do with a conventional cigarette you can do with an e-cigarette so I think that it’s going to provide something above and beyond than a nicotine replacement,” Eisenberg said.