Minister backs hiking legal age for vapes, smokes; Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says she has discussed raising minimum age to 21; Exclusive

New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal

By John Chilibeck

July 08, 2022

New Brunswick’s health minister says she’s open to the idea of banning the sale of tobacco and vape products to young people under the age of 21.

In an email to the Daily Gleaner, Dorothy Shephard said she had recently met with the Canadian Cancer Society to discuss possible legislative changes relating to vaping and tobacco products, including raising the minimum age from 19.

“As minister of health, I believe this is a direction all provinces should be heading, and Prince Edward Island has already taken that step here in Atlantic Canada,” she said in the email Thursday. “I’ll be taking the opportunity, whenever I can, to share this message with my fellow health ministers and also my provincial cabinet and caucus colleagues.”

Making the change would require majority cabinet approval. Those cabinet meetings remain strictly confidential until a decision is reached.

The biggest cigarette maker in Canada, Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., did not respond for comment, nor did the Canadian Vaping Association.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Cancer Society called upon the Higgs Progressive Conservative government to follow the lead of P.E.I. and the United States by banning the sale of tobacco and vape products to any young person under the age of 21.

Lana Randell, an advocacy worker for the organization in Saint John, says too many young people get hooked at an early age on the harmful products.

“We know the younger the legal age, the more likely teenagers will access tobacco and e-cigarettes,” she said in an interview. “With the legal age set at 19, a lot of 17-and 18-year-olds are likely to have a brother or sister or a friend, someone in their social circle, to purchase the products for them. But someone in high school, who’s 16 or 17, doesn’t usually have a friend who’s 21.”

A little over a year ago, the provincial government introduced changes to license about 40 vape shops across New Brunswick, charging them $100 a year, starting in April of this year.

It also banned the sale of flavoured vape products that might entice children, a move the cancer society supported.

As part of the society’s campaign to convince the New Brunswick government to follow the lead of the United States, which passed a federal law called Tobacco21 in December 2019 and, P.E.I., which followed suit in March 2020 by making it illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes – to anyone under 21, it released a new, one-minute video Wednesday of several teens from an unnamed New Brunswick high school promoting the idea of a wider ban.

The students point out that most people who smoke or vape began when they were teens.

The health minister agreed that was a problem.

“Even though the dangers of tobacco use is well known, close to 14 per cent of the provincial population over the age of 15 smokes. About six per cent of youth aged 12-19 years are taking a puff,” Shephard wrote. “Since most tobacco use begins in adolescence, it’s vital that we protect young people from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

“Educating New Brunswickers about these products, and the potential harms they can pose, is also crucial. I am committed to listening to the concerns raised by the Canadian Cancer Society and exploring what can be done.”

According to several studies, tobacco use is one of the main risk factors for developing chronic diseases like cancer, lung diseases and cardiovascular ailments, illnesses that kill hundreds of New Brunswickers each year.