Victimless vapour? Health care organizations should restrict the use of e-cigarettes

Sally T. Bean, Maxwell J. Smith


Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid containing either vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol in combination with nicotine and/or flavours; an aerosol is produced that is inhaled by the user. Health Canada currently prohibits the importation, marketing or selling of e-cigarettes containing nicotine, although they can be easily purchased. Because of the availability of e-cigarettes, patients and visitors to health care organizations (HCOs) are inquiring about their use within and on the grounds of those facilities. We contend that in provinces or municipalities where e-cigarette use has not been restricted, HCOs should develop institutional policies to do so. We argue that the following reasons collectively justify measures to restrict the use of e-cigarettes within HCOs: unknown long-term safety, uncertain effectiveness in harm reduction, the conflict with the mission of HCOs to promote health, the potential negative health impacts on vulnerable patients with a compromised health status, and the risk of re-normalization of smoking. However, because of the rapidly developing evidence base in this area, HCOs should remain responsive to emerging evidence regarding the status of e-cigarettes as an effective harm reduction tool.


Public health; electronic cigarettes; health policy; bioethics; nicotine

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