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Canadian Cancer Society concerned vape industry has too much advertising freedom

A man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago on April 23, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Nam Y. Huh, File)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Canadian Cancer Society is worried advertising for e-cigarettes is creating consumer confusion about the dangers of vaping.

The society wants to see federal ad restrictions as soon as possible, hoping it could stop the “sky-rocketing” use of nicotine by youth.

“The federal government needs to move quickly to restrict advertising so it tremendously changes the availability of ads,” says Rob Cunningham, a senior analyst with the society.

The problem exists in America too, a group of health organizations have protested to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raising concerns that a popular e-cigarette brand is misleading consumers. In a letter addressed to the FDA, five groups — including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association — say JUUL, an e-cigarette company, isn’t being honest in their advertising practices.

RELATED: Surrey councillor hoping to restrict or shut down vape shops in the city 

JUUL has been criticized for advertising using strategies that one Stanford study called “patently youth orientated.” Their latest campaign is prompting those who want to quit smoking to “make the switch.”

“JUUL’s campaign not only creates consumer confusion among smokers, but it also may cause non-smokers, particularly youth who already regard JUUL as highly appealing, to mistakenly believe the product is FDA-approved as ‘safe,’ thus leading to greater initiation and continuation of its use,” read the letter sent to the FDA commissioner.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 65 per cent of vape users still continues to use cigarettes after picking up vaping.

Cunningham says e-cigarettes were originally intended to help curb nicotine cravings, but that tobacco companies have since used them instead to grow the overall market.

“E-cigarettes presented this whole new opportunity to attract kids,” Cunningham explains. “Youth who would have never started to smoke, then there are ex-smokers who have quit all together that are coming back to smoke e-cigarettes for whatever reason.”

RELATED: Health experts want new packaging rules for cigarettes to apply to vaping 

Cunningham worries that anti-smoking advertising by e-cigarette companies makes their claims a conflict of interest.

“They want to keep people smoking, and they need new recruits. To say that a tobacco company doesn’t want kids to start smoking is like an umbrella salesman saying they don’t want it to rain,” Cunningham adds.

JUUL’s “make the switch” campaign is slightly different on the company’s Canadian site, but the response from health experts in both countries seems to align, both asking for change.

The Canadian Cancer Society would also like to see the minimum age to buy e-cigarettes and tobacco raised to 21. “Provincially in B.C., we need to have a minimum age of 21 for both e-cigarettes and tobacco,” Cunningham adds, noting they also want to see flavoured smoking alternatives strictly in the shelves of speciality stores.

B.C. is one of Canada’s more conservative provinces in terms of legal smoking age, only four others — Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island — have provincial limits set at 19 years old, while everywhere else is 18.