Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 3, 2019
Ottawa must lead on e-cigarette regulation reform
It’s time for the federal government to get over its timidity around regulating the vaping industry.
It is no longer acceptable to take a cautious approach. That evidence is now in, and it shows that vaping can lead to serious lung disorders, and more frequent users are at greater risk.
That would be bad enough if the risk was largely to the original vaping audience — adults using e-cigarettes to reduce or stop consuming combustible tobacco products. The risk for reforming smokers is real, but vaping remains preferable to continuing to smoke tobacco and inhaling the related toxins.
But the growth isn’t among adult smokers. Vaping rates among that group are stable. It’s among kids, most of whom start vaping not to quit tobacco but because it’s considered cool. One health survey of 75,000 Canadian students in Grades 9 to 12 asked about reasons for vaping. Only 4 per cent of e-cigarette users said they used them to quit smoking, another 4 per cent said they used vaping to reduce cigarette consumption — and 73 per cent said they used out of “curiosity” or “to try something new.”
This is not what Canadian health authorities had in mind, although it’s good news for vaping companies, many of which are affiliated with or outrighted owned by Big Tobacco companies. Vaping defenders argue companies are not “targeting” young consumers, but we’ve heard that line, before it was illegal for Big Tobacco to market its products to vulnerable kids.
In any case, whether Big Vape is intentionally targeting kids or not doesn’t matter as much as the reality — more and more kids are starting on e-cigarettes and getting addicted to nicotine. Modern vape devices are sophisticated and efficient tools with which to deliver nicotine to the body.
Health Canada is now officially warning about the health risks involved with vaping. Some provinces are taking action. Ontario recently moved to ban e-cigarette advertising in convenience stores. It’s a half measure at best, but it’s something.
But the federal government, for some reason, continues to drag its feet. Now, with the new minority government settling in and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinking about the mandate letters (marching orders, if you prefer) he will be handing over to his ministers, is an ideal time to get very serious about regulation.
An example: Legal marijuana products have to carry ingredient information. Vape products don’t. That makes no sense. Also, the piecemeal approach now in place around marketing needs to evolve into a national strategy. No exceptions, no loopholes: E-cigarettes and affiliated products must never be marketed to minors, and if they are, penalties need to be stiff, public and consistent. The government should also consider lowering nicotine limits in vape products. In Britain, where e-cigarettes have a track record in reducing adult smoking, nicotine limits are lower than for North American markets.
Some argue an outright ban is justifiable under the circumstances. We disagree. A ban has a certain appeal, but it’s a safe bet any attempted ban would lead to a black market for vaping products. That would lead to even less control and more risk for vulnerable consumers.
E-cigarettes remain a viable option for those who smoke traditional tobacco products. There’s no need to overregulate that part of the market. But when it comes to nicotine addiction among young consumers, we’re losing the battle. The federal government will have no trouble finding allies to pass thoughtful and forceful new regulatory measures — the NDP and Greens, at minimum, would be supportive.
Time to get moving before this problem escalates further. (Hamilton Spectator)