Health Minister Terry Lake says the province is prepared to regulate electronic cigarettes so their sale is governed by the same provincial restrictions as tobacco smoking.
He was responding to a resolution adopted Friday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention urging government action.
The growing trend of "vaping" with e-cigarettes instead of smoking has raised questions over product safety and concerns that years of anti-smoking gains could unravel if nicotine addiction rebounds.
Lake said he'd prefer the federal government regulate the battery-powered vaporizers instead, but added the province will act within a year if Ottawa does not.
The goal, he said, would be to ensure e-cigarettes face most of the same bans or restrictions that apply on regular ones under B.C.'s Tobacco Control Act, particularly the ban on sale of tobacco to minors and the rules on advertising and display.
Lake wouldn't yet say if the provincial ban on smoking in public buildings and workplaces, or within three metres of their doors and open windows, would also apply to vaping, but he noted cities can also pass their own bylaws to restrict use of e-cigarettes. Provincial law also bans smoking on all school grounds and in vehicles carrying youth under 16.
The City of Vancouver is considering extending its smoking bylaw to e-cigarettes and adding the word "vaporizing" to its no-smoking signs.
Lake is expected to continue to press for a national solution this week at a conference of provincial health ministers and federal officials.
Fraser Health Authority medical health officer Helena Swinkels supports strong regulation by both the province and municipalities.
"I am very concerned about e-cigarettes and their uptake among youth," she said. "I am concerned whether they actually help people to stop smoking or prolong people's use."
The B.C. Healthy Living Alliance argues the use of e-cigarettes to defy public smoking bans undermines a key deterrent to tobacco use.
Swinkels agreed the potential "social renormalization" of the act of smoking is a concern in part because users can vape in places where they're banned from smoking.
She said the jury is out as to whether e-cigarettes are effective and safe smoking cessation aids, noting they are regulated as consumer products and have not undergone the approval process required for a medication.
"There's some evidence that people using these may end up smoking more," Swinkels said. "There's little oversight of what goes into them and we know some of the ingredients are respiratory irritants."
Nicotine isn't authorized for sale in the flavoured "juice" for e-cigs, but it is readily available.