Jason Cooper wears his vape around his neck.
“So I don’t lose it,” he said.
After 31 years of smoking cigarettes, 25 years of which he smoked a pack-a-day, Cooper tried vaping in 2016 and he said he ditched his cigarettes the next day.
Cooper is the owner of the Village Reddi-Mart on Byrne Road and the creator of the Yellowknife Vape Enthusiasts Facebook group. He said he knows of hundreds of people who quit smoking thanks to vaping.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are electronic devices that heat a nicotine liquid into vapour to mimic traditional cigarette smoking. Often, that liquid is flavoured.
The territorial Department of Health and Social Services announced last month that it’s seeking public feedback on the possibility of banning the sale of flavoured vapour products.
The GNWT is accepting input on the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act – which came into effect in March – until Dec. 18
Health and Social Services is “working to determine the best approach to keeping vaping products out of the hands of our children and youth,” said Damien Healy, department spokesperson, in a news release at the time of the announcement.
The government has received more than 320 survey responses and six written submissions commenting on the possible ban, though the department declined to comment on the nature of the responses until after the window for engagement closes.
Without flavours, Cooper said vaping isn’t as effective a harm reduction product to help smokers quit.
“It wasn’t the tobacco flavour that helped me quit,” he said, “it was peach apricot.”
It’s the flavoured products that help smokers dissociate from smoking, Cooper said. Without them, “customers are saying, ‘Well, I’ll just go back to smoking.’”
Mike Williams, general manager of VapouRevolution – a vape-only store touting itself as a storefront for nicotine replacement tools – shares Coopers’ concerns.
Williams, who’s also a board member on the Canadian Vaping Association, said he understands wanting to regulate an addictive substance like nicotine, but points to Nova Scotia’s recent ban on flavoured vapes where he said 30 per cent of consumers are pondering a return to smoking cigarettes.
Like Cooper, Williams was a vape customer before joining the industry.
“I tried patches. I tried gum. I tried hypnosis,” he said, adding that until vaping nothing worked to help him quit smoking.
“When people go from smoking cigarettes to vaping fruit or dessert they get used to the sweeter taste. A couple weeks later they try cigarettes again and no longer like the taste,” he said. “That’s just one part that flavours play.”
If the government bans flavoured vapes, VapouRevolution would close tomorrow, Williams said. In the 10 stores he manages across the country, he said only three to four per cent of VapouRevolution’s customers use flavourless products.
VapouRevolution’s Yellowknife location opened in 2018, at a time when there were not yet any regulations on vaping products. Williams is calling for the government to find “middle ground.”
In VapouRevolution stores, patrons are asked for identification as soon as they walk through the door.
As long as there continues to be proper regulation, Williams said he doesn’t see flavours as a threat to children.
“Human nature is to like flavours,” he said. “I can still get birthday cake vodka. Why should this be any different?”
If the ban on flavoured vapes proceeds, Cooper said there are still ways of accessing the products. On top of do-it-yourself resources on creating your own flavours, he said ordering flavours from elsewhere is better than the alternative of going back to smoking.
“A black market is going to happen,” he predicted. “When in history has prohibition ever worked?”
Health Canada acknowledges that, for smokers, vaping is a less harmful option than smoking. However, the federal department also advises that people can still be dependent on nicotine inhaled through vaping and the practice involves varying amounts of other chemicals that can be harmful to one’s health.