Category Archives: canada

More Chicken Little from Alberta Action on Smoking and Health

Today in the Edmonton Journal (Flavoured products a blatant ploy to target youth, Alberta anti-tobacco group declares) Keith Gerein wrote

New survey results indicating large numbers of Alberta teenagers are hooked on flavoured tobacco products is evidence enough that the province should immediately ban the items, medical professionals and advocates said Tuesday.

The supposed source for this statement was Health Canada’s 2010-2011 Youth Smoking Survey. To wit

Among youth who had ever tried smoking a cigarette, 30% (about 218,000) had used at least one flavoured tobacco product in the last 30 days, compared to only 1% (about 29,000 ) of youth who had never tried smoking a cigarette.

In my lexicon hooked is not quite the same as having tried something once in the last 30 days. Nor does this seem to be much of a problem if only 1% of non smokers try them (again maybe no more than once in the last 30 days).

Since smokeless tobacco, which as most who read this blog know, is about 99% safer than smoking, you can argue that 1. anytime those people who would have smoked used smokeless instead it was a good thing and 2. there is a chance that someone who might otherwise have become a smoker gravitated towards smokeless instead and ended up with the much less harmful habit. Of course no one wants the kids do be doing any of this – these are toys for adults.

One real problem with this survey is that the flavoured tobacco category conflated smokeless tobacco with menthol cigarettes and flavoured cigars. Considering the vast harm differences between inhaling and not inhaling smoke it would be no different than having a category consisting of e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes together.

I suspect that Gerein did not read the survey which would have lead to quite a different sort of headline since the findings are that smoking (and marijuana and other drug use, and alcohol use) declined for all the groups. Isn’t that headline worthy? We can’t tell about smokeless tobacco since this was the first time that use was polled.

The language throughout the article suggests it was cobbled together from a press release from Les Hagen given the antiquated but incendiary cliches the anti-nicotine groups like to use. “Fruity spit tobacco” leads off the old argument that tobacco companies are targetting youth through the use of flavours. I have always found the implication that adults don’t like flavours odd. Humans like flavoured products. In fact, one of the things a lot of adult smokers found quite attractive about e-cigarettes, and sealed the switch, was the variety of flavours.

According to the article the most commonly used flavoured tobacco product by Alberta youth were cigarrillos. This seems to occasion a ban on flavoured tobacco products in general (again lumping them with the vastly different smokeless products). The real worry then from a harm reduction perspective is that flavoured smokeless tobacco has been gaining popularity as an alternative for smokers, and as a cessation aid. As the case is with e-cigarettes, once you introduce an effective and satisfying alternative to smoking, if you then remove it, you are then encouraging people back into a riskier lifestyle choice.

If we are going to ban something, why not ban groups from using public money (money from you and me) to agitate for removing healthier alternatives from the market?

Finally, the Health Canada report found that almost all youth obtained their products through social sources. In other words these products are not being sold to minors. I worry that if kids start liking Pernod even if they all get it from their parents that high minders will argue that it should be removed from liquor stores.

On a lighter note, the SAIT student paper had a nice little article by Sarah Pynoo – Health Canada’s E-Cig restrictions deserve to go up in smoke.

As for the criticism that cigarettes could lead towards children and young adults getting hooked on actual cigarettes, it seems a bit silly. For one thing, while both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes have a variety of flavours, both are only available with ID to those over 18. Also, it’s pretty hard to imagine a kid getting hooked on candy-flavoured, nicotine-free vapour, and switching over to the harsh, lung-burning alternative of an actual cigarette.

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Health Canada’s anti-cigarette stance: Cui bono

Thanks to Health Canada, the e-cigarette climate in this country is an inhospitable one to say the least. There is no problem vaping if you can get them but availability is hit and miss.

Though the view in the community has been that Health Canada does not understand the nature of the product and thus are wielding inapplicable arguments against suppliers and vendors, what remains somewhat confusing is trying to understand what Health Canada has to gain in its actions. (We will assume for the sake of debate that it is purposeful in its ways – we would like to think but cannot presume that it acts in the public interest).

There is no doubt that vaping is massively safer than smoking. It is so much safer that if the whole population vaped rather than just a small portion of the population smoked you would still have a great reduction in smoking related disease. Were there no impediments to obtaining e-cigarettes it is likely that many smokers would switch.

So why the anti-vaping stance of Health Canada? Or to put it this way – who stands to lose if vaping becomes more popular than smoking?

1. The cigarette industry – dropping sales.
2. The pharmaceutical industry – a superior alternative to products that are both less effective and more dangerous. Again dropping sales.
3. The anti-smoking groups – less smoking means less need for activist anti-smoking groups.
4. Government revenues – less collected from smokers and less from tobacco settlements.
5. Health budgets – people living longer lives means increasing the national health burden.

Many of these would not hurt Health Canada. They might face budget cuts along with other departments due to shrinking tobacco revenues but that should be offset by their increased responsibility with more older but ailing folks to take care of.

So again, what do they gain by protecting tobacco and pharmaceutical interests? Do they not chafe from the internal contradictions which arise from encouraging harm reduction in every area except this one?

Note: I am pleased to announce that I have begun consulting for ECTA. While I do not anticipate any conflicts of interest (our goals are the same – improve the availability of e-cigarettes for vapers and smokers in this country) I should stress that my writing here should not be construed as communication from ECTA, These are my opinions.

What I will be doing however is writing more and more about the Canadian situation (perhaps eventually a dedicated blog). It is clear that, even in countries where strong infrastructures supporting vaping exist, attempts at banning continue. One of the great challenges in this country is to build those supports and knowing that every day that goes by more smokers develop a smoking related disease. Hopefully the day will come when Health Canada bestows on smokers the same respect it bestows on every other citizen. The true hope is for collaboration rather than conflict.