Huffing, puffing on e-cigs Forum to discuss contentious issue

news blue200Winnipeg restaurants at a loss for how to approach e-cigarettes may get some guidance this week.

A forum on the use of electronic cigarettes, also called vaporizers or vapes, led by the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Association (MANTRA), could shed some much-needed light on the contentious topic. Among many local stakeholders and officials will be Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

Jocelyn said he’s “looking for direction.” When it comes to e-cigarettes, he is not alone.

“There’s basically a divide in the health-care community to some degree between those people who see it as a potential for harm reduction and those who are cautious about its use at all,” said Murray Gibson, executive director of MANTRA. “It’s a good discussion.”

Gibson said the forum, which will take place today, is a chance for interested stakeholders to have that conversation, “bringing together people who are interested in knowing more about it.”

Since their invention in China in 2003, electronic cigarettes — battery powered, tobacco-free devices that create a vapour to be inhaled — have taken off in North America. Winnipeg’s first storefront vape shop, Fat Panda, opened last year, and more have popped up since. The problem is the trend is outpacing the research, with health-care officials concerned about the unclear, potentially negative effects on long-term health, the re-normalization of smoking among youth and the highly addictive nature of nicotine, which is present — but illegal — in some e-juice (the liquid that is vapourized to be inhaled).

Health Canada has not approved any e-juice containing nicotine and recommends against its use. Although it is illegal, many vapers can still get access to it.

For Winnipeg restaurants, the result is confusion. Restaurateurs aren’t sure how to proceed, as customers are increasingly anti-smoking and the e-cigarettes gain traction.

Jocelyn said for now, he thinks most restaurants are erring on the side of caution. “The concern now is with electronic cigarettes… the perception that you’re allowing somebody to smoke in your building is not something we’re allowed to do,” he said. “Restaurants aren’t going to take that chance.”

While a handful of Canadian cities have banned their use in public places (Vancouver, notably, along with Red Deer, Alta., and others), there are currently no bylaws or regulations regarding e-cigarettes in Winnipeg, said City of Winnipeg communications officer Michelle Bailey. Manitoba Health isn’t considering a ban either, said a department spokeswoman.

“It is clear that more research is required to assess the possible side-effects of e-cigarettes as well as determine their effectiveness as a smoking cessation aid,” said the spokeswoman.

Yet anecdotal evidence in favour of e-cigarettes is piling up, either as a way to quit smoking or simply an enjoyable pastime.

“I’m passionate about the product,” Jordan Vedoya, owner of Fat Panda on Notre Dame Avenue, told the Free Press last December. “I started using it in September, and it changed my life so drastically I wanted to share it with others.”

Grant Anderson, director at the popular Winnipeg restaurant Stella’s, said Stella’s has historically been anti-smoking, and that would likely apply to e-cigarettes as well.

“We took the stance (when we opened) that we wanted to have a non-smoking environment,” he said. “I don’t think that people would really consider smoking in one of our rooms.”

Peter Scouras, owner of Winnipeg restaurant Red Top Drive Inn, agreed. “I don’t have a formal policy to be honest; it’s still kind of a new thing. I’ve never had anybody try to use one… I’d probably ask them to go outside.”

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2014 A2

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