11/05/2014 09:10 EST | Updated 01/05/2015 05:59 EST

Outcry erupts after Nova Scotia backs down on proposal to ban flavoured tobacco

HALIFAX - Anti-tobacco advocates expressed shock and confusion after the Nova Scotia government decided Wednesday to back down on its proposal to ban flavoured tobacco in legislation that aims to regulate e-cigarettes.

Kelly Cull of the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Cancer Society said she wished she had a better understanding of the government's rationale to amend the legislation, given that scientific studies have demonstrated that flavoured tobacco is popular among youth.

"The flip-flop on this is astonishing," said Cull.

The government also no longer wants to prohibit the juice used in e-cigarettes as was proposed under the legislation when it was introduced nearly two weeks ago.

The changes were made after some people and businesses spoke out at a legislature committee earlier this week, saying the proposed changes had unintended consequences. Some of those who appeared before the committee said e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking.

"What we are doing is listening to the people," said Margaret Miller, a Liberal member of the law amendments committee.

Dave Wilson, an NDP member on the committee, said the government's reversal on flavoured tobacco was a "big win" for the tobacco industry. He said the issue raised by people at the hearings earlier this week was about the need to have an exemption for the juice used in e-cigarettes — not remove the proposed ban on flavoured tobacco.

"Many talked in favour of banning flavoured tobacco, that wasn't the issue," Wilson said. "I'm perplexed on why the government is backtracking on this legislation."

When he introduced the bill, Health Minister Leo Glavine said steps such as a ban on flavoured tobacco were needed to address evidence that the product poses a health risk, especially to young people.

The government said it will conduct public consultations within a year that will focus on products and flavours targeted at youth. As a result, any changes in the proposed law would not take effect until May 31.

Regardless, the legislation will ensure that youth don't have access to those products, Glavine said.

"While we are consulting we will have this framed so that we make sure that the youth of our province do not have access to flavoured tobacco products," he said.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said he could live with the delay in the bill's implementation in order to get the regulations right.

Strang said he heard more concerns about proposal to ban e-cigarette juice than he anticipated in his push for a comprehensive bill.

"I take the blame for not analyzing and thinking about the e-juice as much and what we might hear from that," he said.

The legislation would still outlaw the use of water pipes such as hookahs and e-cigarettes in indoor public places. It would also prohibit stores from selling e-cigarettes to those under 19 and retailers would also not be allowed to display, advertise or promote the devices, effectively treating them like regular cigarettes.