05/05/2015 03:22 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT

Quebec Targets E-Cigarettes, Smoking On Patios

MONTREAL - Ten years after it prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants, Quebec has introduced sweeping legislation that would extend the ban to patios and subject increasingly popular e-cigarettes to the same rules as other tobacco products.

Flavoured tobacco would also be outlawed as would smoking in a vehicle if someone under 16 is present.

"We know that tobacco is the worst product that you can take," junior health minister Lucie Charlebois said Tuesday after tabling the legislation.

"I saw my father die of lung cancer because he was smoking too much. I don't have to explain to you how horrible it was.

"We want to be the leaders in Canada and around the world in terms of less prevalence of tobacco."

If it becomes law, Bill 44 would see e-cigarettes prohibited inside institutions and public buildings.

The bill seeks to prohibit the sale of all tobacco products having a flavour or aroma, including menthol cigarettes and cigarillos. Electronic cigarettes are exempt because they're used by smokers seeking to end their addiction.

"I do not want to take away the opportunity for people to use this product to quit smoking," said Charlebois, herself an ex-smoker.

The province also wants to ban smoking on bar and restaurant patios and within nine metres of a public building — unless that distance leaves smokers on the street.

Bill 44 will be subject to extensive consultations and Charlebois said she doesn't know when it might become law.

Anti-tobacco groups say the tightening of the province's tobacco legislation is long overdue, with the previous changes coming in 2005.

"When we initially adopted the Tobacco Act in 1998, we were under the impression this (revision) would be a regular process," said Francois Damphousse, Quebec director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association.

"It's been 10 years since the last one, so we have to give credit to Lucie Charlebois for finally delivering and bringing it up to date."

Damphousse said the timing is important given that Nova Scotia and Ontario are also getting ready to introduce new rules on flavoured tobacco products.

Groups say they'd like to see Quebec go further and introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Currently, only Australia has the generic, logo-free packaging, but Damphousse says other countries are mulling it.

"We're just hoping the minister will be open still to other suggestions," he said.

Charlebois said 22 per cent of Quebecers smoke, a rate she suggested has remained stable for a few years.

"Ultimately, what we're hoping for is a smoke-free Quebec," she said.

Mario Bujold, head of the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, said he's happy to see e-cigarettes being subjected to regulations.

"By including e-cigarettes in the tobacco act, we know that many teenagers use e-cigarettes and it needed to be more regulated and it wasn't at all," said Bujold.

Charlebois said studies on electronic cigarettes are in their infancy and don't allow for definitive conclusions.

The idea is not to try to ban the e-cigarettes, which are used as a way to stop smoking. But from a public health perspective, the government believes they should be subject to more stringent rules.

"What we are trying to do in the bill is protect young people, reduce the level of initiation to smoking," Charlebois said. "We're trying to make sure that people who used to smoke, like myself, don't get the urge to start again."

Back in 2005 when the Liberal government banned smoking in bars, the health minister was Philippe Couillard, the current premier.

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