The Toronto Board of Health is meeting to discuss Monday a municipal ban on electronic cigarettes, which would prohibit their use in places where cigarettes are banned.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that mimic the use, appearance, and taste of conventional cigarettes. They contain a liquid solution that is heated and vapourized when the user inhales.

The non-nicotine products are fairly new, so health risks are unclear. However, Toronto Public Health's Dr. Barbara Yaffe says the e-cigarettes are often cited as a gateway to smoking for adolescents.

"We are concerned about re-normalization of smoking. It's taken a long time to get where we are at, and we don't want to go backwards," Yaffe told CTV News.

TPH will examine a report written by Toronto Medical Officer of Health David McKeown, which recommends that the city ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places. McKeown also recommends prohibiting the sale of flavoured e-cigarette products and banning e-cigarette displays in stores.

The report said that there were possible risks associated with exposure to second-hand vapour, and handling of the liquid solutions could cause serious injuries.

Though the health risks of the battery-powered devices are unknown, use is skyrocketing across the country because there currently are no rules.

Currently, e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, or that claim they can help users quit smoking, are regulated under the federal Food and Drugs Act.

Those without nicotine or health-related claims can be imported, advertised and sold across Canada without restrictions.

"The public health community has been expressing more and more concern and we feel we need to advocate for more action before the situation becomes more serious," Yaffe said.

Provincial decision looms

McKeown's report called on the Ontario government to amend provincial legislation, while recommending that the city go ahead with its own ban if the province doesn't act by February.

After reading the report, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the government is looking into the risks before making a decision to amend the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

Hoskins is calling on Health Canada to determine whether e-cigarettes should be classified as a drug or tobacco product.

Health Canada last addressed vaping in 2009, when the organization advised Canadians not to use the nicotine-based products because product safety hadn't been proven. However, the agency has not put any restrictions into effect.

On Wednesday, Hoskins told reporters at Queen's Park that he was also researching the role e-cigarettes play in helping smokers to quit. He said he will raise the issue in September when provincial and territorial health ministers meet in Banff, Alta.

If TPH chooses to ban the products, Toronto will follow in the footsteps of Red Deer, Alta., where the products were banned in June.

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine has told local media he hopes to introduce legislation that addresses e-cigarettes in the fall session.

In December, New York City passed a bill banning e-cigarette use in restaurants, bars and clubs, and vaping is banned in public places in Los Angelos, Boston and Chicago.

With files from CTV National News' Avis Favaro