The new Government of Canada needs to co-ordinate urgent action with the provinces for a national approach to vaping and new smoke-free technologies, one of Canada's leading tobacco companies said today.
Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH) called on Ottawa to establish a coalition to develop a national action plan to curb the appeal and access of vaping to youth while setting better regulations on smoke-free products to improve consumer safety, standards and communication for adults.
"Parents should know their teens - no matter where they live - are all protected in the same way," said Peter Luongo, managing director of RBH. "At the same time, the 4.5-million adult smokers need equal access to better alternatives to cigarettes."
Several provincial governments have started to act in response to the changing landscape for vaping in Canada.
Ontario has introduced regulatory changes to limit the promotion of vaping products at point-of-sale. Alberta has indicated it intends to implement a tax on vaping products in 2020 as part of a statutory review of their Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act. Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are also considering changes to provincial legislation and regulations as well.
"Without a national approach, a patchwork of different rules will leave some Canadians behind," said Luongo.
This smoke-free coalition should include national and provincial legislators and regulators, scientific and academic researchers, harm-reduction experts, health care professionals, retailers and industry.
Building on its 5-point "Unsmoke: Ideas for a Smoke-Free Canada" policy platform, RBH recommends Ottawa and the provinces:
- add warning labels on smoke-free products;
- require licensing to sell any vaping product and enact stricter penalties for retailers who sell to youth, especially online;
- restrict the advertising and promotion of smoke-free products so they are better directed only to current adult smokers;
- explore raising the legal purchase age to 19;
- review how to prevent tampering with open-tank systems;
- require a list of ingredients;
- put a ceiling on nicotine content;
- institute more rigorous reporting and standardized testing;
- increase information available to adult consumers about the risks of smoke-free options relative to smoking; and
- recognize smoke-free technologies that are scientifically substantiated are a better alternative for adult smokers who do not quit.
Smoke-free technologies are not risk-free and are addictive but a growing body of scientific research around the world shows they are less harmful for current adult smokers who switch away from cigarettes.
Public Health England recently restated its long-standing position, based on independent expert evidence, that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Earlier this year the Food & Drug Administration authorized a heating tobacco technology for sale in the United States "in the protection of public interest" based on scientific evidence that it reduced both the volume and intensity of harmful and potentially harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
Regulatory restrictions are contributing to low awareness among Canadians about the health risks of smoke-free alternatives relative to cigarettes, such as vaping or heating tobacco.
RBH recommends a priority for tobacco control policy across Canada should be to make information more selectively available for current adult smokers while keeping such products out of the hands of youth.
Quotes from Peter Luongo, managing director of RBH:
- The best choice for any Canadians is to never start smoking or using nicotine or to quit entirely.
- Governments should recognize that smoke-free technologies, such as vaping or heating, offer adults who don't quit smoking a better alternative to cigarettes.
- Scientific evidence shows that these products are not the same as cigarettes – and governments should not treat them the same as cigarettes.
- Regulation in Canada has not kept pace with innovation of smoke-free technologies – but it's important that governments act urgently with a balanced approach to protect public health.
- Scientifically substantiated smoke-free technologies such as vaping or heating tobacco are not risk-free but they are significantly less harmful than cigarettes.
- I am deeply concerned with the increase in youth usage of vaping products. RBH welcomes restrictions on both the placement and content of advertising of vaping products, as well as retail promotions, to keep vaping away from youth.
- Most retailers in Canada are responsible and compliant and don't sell vaping or tobacco products to minors. But for those few bad apples who do, the penalties should be much stiffer.
- The access problem is most youth get vaping products from their friends in high school, not from retailers. Government should explore raising the legal age to ensure these products are illegal on all school grounds across Canada.
- Open tank systems create a risk of tampering. Government needs to explore ways to make open-tanks less risky for consumers.
- Flavors that are particularly appealing to minors should be restricted but an outright flavor ban should be avoided as flavors can help an adult switch away – and stay away – from cigarettes.
- The debate in Canada should be about how to make smoke-free technologies more safely and smartly available for current adult smokers – and out of the hands of youth.