The University of Alberta students say the growing popularity of e-cigarettes could undermine years of effort aimed at getting people to quit using tobacco or never to start.
Sabrina Singh, one of the students, said the city should amend its smoking bylaw to include electronic cigarettes.
"We are concerned about protecting children and youth and non-smokers," Singh said. "They are observing individuals using e-cigarettes in public spaces."
Health Canada has advised Canadians not to buy or use e-cigarettes because they have not been tested to determine if they are safe. The devices, which use a battery to vaporize liquid nicotine or other material, which is then inhaled, have not been approved for sale by Ottawa but are readily available in shops and on the Internet.
Faced with a lack of detailed regulations, some municipalities have stepped in to fill the void.
The cities of Vancouver and Red Deer, Alta., have voted to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public places where smoking is not allowed.
In Toronto, the city has banned the devices from municipal work spaces.
School boards in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver have also said No to e-cigarettes.
Nova Scotia is proposing legislation that would ban their use in indoor public places and their sale to people under 19.
The Canadian Public Health Association told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health last month that the federal government will probably require new measures to regulate e-cigarettes.
Ian Culbert, the association's executive director, said until that happens they should be reviewed under the Canada Consumer Safety Act. He encouraged the federal government to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in all public places under its jurisdiction, restrict their advertising and require manufacturers to disclose the contents of their emissions.
Culbert said as the federal government grapples with these issues, it is heartening to see individuals and other levels of government take action.
"Anything that poses the possibility of us losing ground with respect to our smoking rates has to be attacked head-on and immediately, so we are very supportive of the steps that communities are taking across the country," he said in an interview Monday.
"The lack of provincial, territorial or federal leadership is unfortunate, but understandable because this is an emerging area."
Culbert said there is potential for e-cigarettes to be an effective device to help people quit smoking, but there is no scientific evidence to back up such claims.
In Edmonton, Singh and other members of the group Student Advocates for Public Health are making progress.
After meeting with the group, Edmonton city councillor Andrew Knack said he will introduce a notice of motion at Wednesday's council meeting asking the administration for a report on the idea of banning e-cigarettes from public places.
Student Keely Stenberg, who is studying for her masters in public health, said the issue boils down to protecting children and youth.
"We feel that the governments - municipal, provincial and federal - should be regulating these products, because we don't know if these products are safe."
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