Action on Smoking and Health, Canadian Public Health Association
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control
New developments lead some health groups to reconsider their support for Bill S-5
New evidence and recent developments regarding e-cigarettes have reinforced ongoing concerns regarding Bill S-5 (the “Tobacco and Vaping Products Act”), leading a number of tobacco control groups and other health organizations to call for parts of the legislation, now headed to the Standing Committee on Health for hearings starting this week, to be significantly strengthened.
Up until now, the nicotine vaping industry in Canada has kept a low profile and has not aggressively marketed its products. However, the passage of S-5 will likely trigger the entry of large tobacco companies into the Canadian vaping market. These multinationals have demonstrated that they are willing and able to aggressively market their products to new users including non-smokers.
“The overly permissive approach of Bill S-5 with respect to promotion makes this legislation more about ‘product diversification’ than ‘harm reduction’. Our fear is that Bill S-5 will result in Big Tobacco promoting vaping products in mainstream media, and that this will result in higher rates of nicotine addiction among young people and non-smokers, long-term health problems and potentially higher smoking rates,” says Neil Collishaw, Research Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
“Unless the bill is amended, Canadians could find themselves in a sea of nicotine containing e-cigarette advertising similar to what we saw decades ago when Big Tobacco filled the airwaves and public spaces which cigarette ads,”adds Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the Canadian Public Health Association, echoing the concerns of many others.
Initially tabled on November 22nd 2016 before the Senate, Bill S-5 introduces a legal framework for e-cigarettes and other vaping products, allowing advertising of these products on television, radio, billboards, internet, social media, newspapers and retail environments frequented by minors.
Neil Collishaw continues: “Bill S-5 is far from balanced. At this point, we feel that the risks associated with promoting addictive vaping products to the entire population, including through lifestyle ads aimed at young adults, outweigh the potential health benefits they represent to smokers who need help to quit. Given the mounting evidence of potential harms linked these products, and as a group representing physicians whose oath is to ‘first, do no harm’, it would be difficult for us to support the bill as is. Bill S-5 could easily be amended in a way that ensures smokers receive appropriate information about the availability of less harmful forms of nicotine while at the same time protecting kids and non-smokers.”
“Most of us initially supported the bill based on our confidence that the government would be open to reasonable adjustments to prevent probable spillover effects of promoting e‑cigarettes among the general public,” explains Flory Doucas, spokesperson of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control. “However, with barely 48 hours scheduled between the last panel of expert witnesses and the Committee’s votes on amendments, we are concerned that the intent is to rubber stamp the bill. “If the government is closed to tightening up the advertisement provisions, our Coalition is prepared to withdraw its support for the bill,” warns Ms Doucas.
“There is no question that vaping technologies are far less harmful that combustible cigarettes. That said, no regulator should take nicotine addiction lightly. The question before MPs is not whether smokers should have access to nicotine vaping products — of course they should. Rather, the question is ‘do you want your kids or grandkids to be exposed to advertisements promoting cool gadgets and fog machines that contain one of the most addictive substances on the planet?” adds Les Hagen of Alberta’s Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) in Edmonton.
“The multinationals that will be advertising e-cigarettes are the same ones that are still pushing the products that kill 45 000 Canadians every year. Internal tobacco industry documents show that their goal is to maximize profits through a more diversified market. As it is written, Bill S-5 will not be used to transition their customers out of the tobacco market but as a way to keep the cash flowing from ex-smokers and dual users, and to generate new revenues from non-smokers. Canadians deserve better protection from such harmful corporate greed,” concludes Mr. Collishaw.
Tobacco control organizations are calling on the federal government to respond to a recent wave of tobacco manufacturer price increases by raising tobacco tax as soon as possible and implementing standardized pricing on tobacco products.