09/30/2014 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Health ministers want more federal action on tobacco, e-cigarettes

BANFF, Alta. - Provincial and territorial health ministers want the federal government to do more about flavoured tobacco and the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said it appears that tobacco companies are determined to skirt regulations designed to prevent the sale of flavoured tobacco products to young people.

He noted the federal government wants to close a loophole in the rules regarding some products, but provinces want even more restrictions.

Lake said there is also a need for federal action on so-called e-cigarettes.

"We encourage the federal government to put a framework in place to protect particularly young people from electronic cigarettes and make sure they are regulated in the way that tobacco is regulated," Lake said at the ministers conference in Banff, Alta., on Tuesday.

Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel said his province is still working on the regulations of a law that was passed last December that would ban flavoured tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

Mandel suggested the Alberta government will soon make the regulations public.

"There are always challenges to different aspects of it but the important part is to make sure they focus on ensuring that those kind of products that would be damaging to children are taken off of the market as quick as possible."

Health groups want other governments to follow Alberta's lead and pass similar legislation.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has said governments need to protect young people from the serious health hazards of tobacco.

It estimates that 153,000 adolescents in Canada use flavoured tobacco products.

The Canadian Cancer Society said for such a ban to be effective, it must include menthol cigarettes.

The society said federal action to date falls short of what needs to be done to protect young people from the health dangers of tobacco products.

"The new federal regulations on flavoured tobacco fail to give kids the protection they deserve," Rob Cunningham, a society policy analyst, said in a release.

"Flavoured tobacco makes it too easy for youth to experiment with and become addicted to tobacco, which is a tremendous concern."

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that do not contain tobacco but can be used to heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating a vapour that users inhale.

Smokers like them because the vapour looks like smoke but doesn't contain the thousands of chemicals, tar or odour of regular cigarettes.

The UN health agency recently called for member countries to prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors and ban their use indoors until more evidence can be gathered about the risks.

The devices are widely available even though Health Canada has not approved any e-cigarettes under the Food and Drug Act.