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How do we achieve a smoke-free Canada, faster?

This article is sponsored by Unsmoke Canada, an initiative of Rothmans, Benson and Hedges

Despite decades of government programs and regulations, today, nearly five million Canadian adults continue to smoke.

Even if you are not a smoker yourself, chances are someone you know, love or work with, is.

About 22 per cent of the world’s population still smokes, despite successive measures by governments around the world to reduce smoking rates.

In 2019, as one of Canada’s largest tobacco companies, we launched “Unsmoke” Canada, guided by the driving principle that the best choice is never to start smoking cigarettes or for those who do, to quit entirely.

You may be wondering, “What does that even mean?” For us, “Unsmoke” means to rid your life of smoke. Simply put:

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t quit, change.

We acknowledge that this is not a message people expect to hear from our company. But we must open our minds to have meaningful conversations about how scientific advancements have opened new doors.

Innovation can help current adult smokers by switching them from cigarettes to different, alternative technology that are becoming more and more available in Canada.

These alternatives are not risk-free. They contain nicotine which is addictive. But they do not involve burning, and therefore can produce lower levels of the harmful chemicals compared to those found in cigarette smoke.

Regulations should be risk-proportionate. The most harmful products involving combustion and smoke – such as cigarettes – should be subject to the most restrictive regulations, and the government should be thoughtful and keep harm reduction foremost in mind when choosing how to regulate smoke-free alternatives

What is the Role of Government?
Quite simply, governments should not regulate these smoke-free alternatives the same as cigarettes because scientific evidence shows they are not the same.

There is an opportunity in front of us right now. The second review of the federal government’s Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) is currently underway. This provides an opportunity for a thorough review to ensure that regulations make sense.

And that includes guarding against youth taking up any form of nicotine. We are emphatic – our company believes that no nicotine or nicotine-containing product should ever be in the hands of minors. The same applies to adults who aren’t currently smoking or using other nicotine products.

We support new measures to prevent youth vaping, and enforcing stricter penalties for sales to minors as well as restrictions on advertising and promotion. We also support product quality and tampering standards.

But if we think about the adults in our lives who smoke, shouldn’t they be able to make informed choices?

That is why Canada needs to take a balanced approach – to help adult smokers by providing access to and accurate information about alternatives, while also guarding against youth access with smart regulations. Both can be achieved.

There’s no doubt Canada can be a global leader in reducing the harm caused by smoking, but it requires actionable steps, such as creating policy that differentiates between smoke-free products and cigarettes.

Canadians are not well informed about the alternatives to smoking that are available because our current laws don’t allow them to have access to information about these options or to distinguish the relative risks of one product to another.

Smoke-free products should be regulated based on their relative risk to cigarettes. This would go a long way to reducing the barriers to choice for adult smokers.

The federal government has started to acknowledge that not all nicotine products are the same as cigarettes, but further steps are needed. Now is the time to modernize Canadian laws so that adult smokers have access to better alternatives; by doing so, we can create lasting change.

That is how together, we can Unsmoke Canada.

Kory McDonald is Head of External Affairs at Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc.

DISCLAIMER: This story was provided by Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. for commercial purposes.