Wicked Wizard E liquid E cig retailers stand up to Health Canada
E cig retailers stand up to Health Canada
The latest round of threatening letters has been mailed out by Health Canada but electronic cigarette vendors aren't budging.
With the border essentially closed to importing nicotine "e juice" -- Canadian Border Services seized nearly 17,000 Kg of tobacco substitutes, including those destined for e cigarettes, last year alone -- homegrown business is booming.
And despite the threat from federal agencies -- with little in the way of enforcement thus far -- e cigarette retailers continue to pop up across the country, either online or in brick-and-mortar storefronts.
One of the most successful chains in the country, e-Steam Canada, sprouted out of a single location in the Gloucester Centre a little more than two years ago, and now the company has expanded to 14 locations across Ontario, with no signs of slowing down -- or bowing down.
"We know the criticism of the industry: that we're signing up people and creating a problem, not solving a problem," said e-Steam manager Martin Lacombe.
"And I will scream from the rooftop saying that is absolutely not true."
Lacombe, a former pack-a-day smoker who quit overnight after taking his first haul on an e cigarette, sold his trucking business and went to work for the fledgling company.
"I enjoyed smoking. There's a reason I did it for 25 years, because I loved it. It was just unfortunate it was killing me," said Lacombe, who figures he now spends about one-tenth of the yearly $3,500 his nicotine habit cost him as a smoker.
"But I would not have been able to quit on my own."
With no formal regulatory body overseeing the retail market, the company has its own in-house policies. They won't sell to minors, and they won't sell to non-smokers.
And while e-Steam won't ship products from online orders, other Ottawa companies -- like capitalnicfit.com and ottawaesmoke.com -- don't share that same reservation.
That's part of the multi-layered challenge the retail industry is facing as it paddles through murky legal waters, said Kate Ackerman, an e cigarette vendor and vocal member of the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada.
"We're pushing for the federal government to sit down with the ECTA to join voices, get this product regulated so it can be handled properly, so these Canadian businesses can grow and smokers can have access to this alternative," said Ackerman.
"There are still five million smokers in Canada and only a handful are even aware of what an electronic cigarette is."
Health Canada is aware of what it is, but Ackerman said the agency "isn't being honest" with consumers.
"(E cigarettes) are not a medical product, so saying it's not approved, without qualifying that it's not approved as a medical product, is dishonest," said Ackerman.
"And telling a retailer they can't sell this because it's not approved as a medical product -- when it's not even sold as a medical product -- is also dishonest. Unfortunately this is the federal government, so that's going to be a real struggle, and it may be a struggle that ends up in court."
Ackerman said some vendors are scared off when a letter arrives from Health Canada telling them to "Stop selling, or else."
"It can be scary -- until you read the 'or else.'
"It sounds like they're going to break down your door and haul you off to jail. But there's not a whole lot they can do about it right now. The maximum they've done to date is to mark any vendor who's selling nicotine e liquid as non-compliant with their food and drug regulations. Whether they pursue that or not, we don't know, but we do know if they do pursue it, it will land in court."
Attitudes toward e cigarettes are also shifting, especially in the United States and overseas, said Ackerman.
A recent Royal College of Physicians study predicts U.K. health institutions will come to embrace e cigarettes once the first licensed devices hit the market next year, and concludes: "E cigarettes will save lives, and we should support their use."
But unfortunately for the stubborn industry, Health Canada isn't budging, either.