Tag Archives: health canada

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.

E-cigarettes are NOT banned in Canada

You know the old canard – if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and looks like a duck its probably a duck? Well, what we have here in Canada is the opposite. Though Health Canada acts as though there is a ban, suggests there is a ban, and though just about everybody in this country refers to the current situation as a ban, there really is no ban.

E-cigarettes are not a health product. They are a recreational consumer good and as such do not fall under the Food and Drugs Act. Nicotine replacement therapies (pharmaceutical nicotine products used for the purpose of quitting smoking) make therapeutic claims and therefore are covered under the act. E-cigarettes make no such claims.

Despite the fact that many smokers have switched to e-cigarettes, vendors do not claim that their products aid cessation. They also do not claim their product, or nicotine, has any health benefits.

Users do make those claims but policy is based on what producers claim and how the product behaves rather than what people say it does for them. For example I could be a smoker who took up scuba diving. The more time I spent underwater the less I smoked. After a while the desire to smoke lessened more and more and I eventually quit. I could tell you that I quit smoking through scuba diving but it does not make scuba diving a quit smoking therapy.

Granted that interpreting where e-cigarettes should be categorized can be a little confusing since they are rather unique in that they are both like and unlike cigarettes, smokeless nicotine products and nicotine inhalers. What makes them really unique is that they deliver enough nicotine to satisfy smokers who are not trying to quit.

There is a strong advisory on the Health Canada website that has been interpreted as a ban.

There is also an additional document aimed at potential vendors in which you see that though they claim e-cigarettes fall under their jurisdiction they refer to them as “health products”.

Market authorization is granted by Health Canada following successful review of scientific evidence demonstrating safety, quality and efficacy with respect to the intended purpose of the health product.
In addition, the delivery system within an electronic smoking kit that contains nicotine must meet the requirements of the Medical Devices Regulations.

Apart from the point that you require a therapeutic claim to be made to be classified as a “health product”, I think many vapers though they certainly believe their e-cig is healthier than smoking still do not consider it a “health product” nor would they think of it as a “medical device”. E-cigarettes are a consumer product and as such are governed by guidelines of consumer protection (safety standards, product labelling, quality control). In many ways consumers are more fully protected there than under Health Canada guidelines. In fact, in the UK, US and in Canada too (see the ECTA site), e-cigarette vendors have banded together to create standards of excellence for the product and marketing guidelines (no selling to minors, no health claims).(See this ECITA post on how nicotine replacement therapies would not pass the standards required of consumer products – it is a British context but roughly similar to the Canadian).

The wording of the advisory is harsh but the strongest evidence for this not being a real ban is the behavior of Health Canada when someone appeals one of their cease and desist letters.

One courageous vendor has stood up to Health Canada (HC) and remains in business. On a recent VapeCast this vendor, who openly sells e-cigarettes via a website, reported on their experience with threats from HC. They received cease and desist letters and said that when they asked HC for the specific law that was being broken HC would not furnish that information. A little time would pass and then HC would send another letter with another argument. These actions ran the gamut from cease and desist to getting customs to seize product.

If there was a legitimate ban in place all they would have had to do was cite the law and take the vendor down. It appears that while they are saying there is a ban there really isn’t.

The problem is that if you think there is a ban then you start acting as though there is. Many vendors have switched to selling non nicotine e-cigarettes (Health Canada does not seem to have a problem with those as “medical devices”) or have simply closed their doors. And though it is easy enough to say that everyone should stand up for the cause, in Canada, almost of these companies are too small to muster the resources that they think might be required.

There is a lot more to say about this. Stay tuned. This will be a recurring topic on the site. Bullying by Health Canada is depriving smokers of a safer alternative to using nicotine – it is saying in no uncertain terms that smoking is the preferable route.

If you have a story about an experience dealing with Health Canada on this issue leave a comment or send me an email describing it and I will report it (I am happy to keep it as anonymous as you wish).

Health Canada takes on the anti-tobacco industry

At a strongly attended press conference today, Health Canada unveiled the new warning labels to be posted in the foyers of all anti-tobacco organizations and the requirements that these labels be prominently posted in all their advertisements and websites.

The new Minister of Health, Shauna Whyte, took this high-profile step to signal a break with previous government tobacco policies which had been criticized as being too cozy with organizations that are intent on keeping Canadians smoking. She declared that these new regulations would be the first of a series of such policies that would turn the emphasis of Health Canada tobacco policies back onto health. “We’ve been allowing powerful special interests to dictate our policies long enough; it’s time to really think about how these policies affect the people we are supposed to be serving”.

As the Minister noted, recent consultations indicated that all the elements for radically reducing tobacco-related disease were already in place, and the only impediments were those coming from certain prominent activist groups. “The only proven method for reducing smoking prevalence much below one fifth of the population is for smokers to switch to low-risk alternative products like smokeless tobacco and other smoke-free alternatives.” This strategy, known as harm reduction, is embraced by the public health community in areas ranging from sexual behavior to transportation, and is particularly effective in the case of smoking since switching to alternative products has basically the same health benefit as quitting entirely.

The government decided to move on this now because some of the more active opponents of public health had moved beyond these organizations to gain government and other public service appointments. “Ironically, the appropriate metaphor is cancer, and we have to stop the cancer before it gets into the tobacco companies where most of the real research on safer nicotine products is being conducted. If they breach those walls, they will shut down all research resulting in a world with only one tobacco product and the most dangerous one at that.”

“These organizations try to portray their deadly message as glamorous and healthy, and many of their marketing efforts are clearly directed at children. Their actions run counter to the public interest, so we need to take these steps before things get even worse.”

This new legislation which would educate donors as to the harmful effects of their donations, and the new tax levied on the donors would help offset the social costs resulting from the donations, was felt necessary because “most people don’t seem to know where their money is going, and while we don’t want to interfere with their rights to donate, we want to be sure that they are fully aware of the results of their actions. Many of these people are or know smokers and may not know that their donation could contribute to the premature death of a loved one.”

Among the organizations to be affected by this ruling were the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, and Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada. And while Health Canada cannot affix the warnings to non-Canadian groups, any Canadians donating to foreign anti-health groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids or Action on Smoking and Health would still be subject to the new levy.

When questioned about her own government’s banning of electronic cigarettes, another alternative that was believed to be as low in risk as smokeless tobacco, the Minister replied “the responsible individuals no longer work in this department and the first order of business will be removing that ban”.

In a hastily called press conference, the spokesman from a coalition of anti-smoking and anti-tobacco groups, Samuel Webber, protested that they were engaged in legal activities and that the move would result in job losses. “Our donors are adults who are making a lifestyle choice to contribute. They understand the health risks caused by our political action, and we have never attempted to conceal those risks. Opposing harm reduction is an important industry. It pays salaries that are higher than our employees could make in other fields, and so this policy will hurt families and community services.” Mr. Webber concluded with the impassioned plea, “won’t somebody think of the children?” Proponents of the new policy responded by citing studies about additional government health care expenditures caused by these donations, which the taxes will help offset , and argued that the children would be better off growing up in a world where they are free to reduce their risk.

The Minister finished with “we know there will be some opposition to this. The groups we are up against are quite powerful and are not used to playing by the rules. They are entrenched and have come to expect the free ride and the big paycheques to continue forever. But sometimes you can’t just do what is easy, you have to do what is right”.

(We trust that it is obvious that this is a parody. We will explicitly state it because in this area truth so often loses the battle with fiction that sometimes it is hard to tell. It was written by Paul L Bergen with Carl V. Phillips providing valuable contributions.)