by Shane Eubank February 10, 2021
On December 19th, when most Canadians were trying to figure out what the holidays would look like during a pandemic, the Federal Liberals quietly launched their latest attack on vaping. The most recent Canada Gazette deals with nicotine levels in vapour products. Specifically, the government plans to reduce the limit from 66 mg/ml to 20 mg/ml, a whopping 70% decrease.
If that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, the government doesn’t deny it. They concede that their new initiative will result in fewer people vaping and more people smoking. They go so far as to reassure tobacco manufacturers that revenues lost on vapour products can be recouped with cigarette sales.
Why are the Liberals pressing ahead with a plan to reduce the appeal of vapour products, even knowing that it will increase smoking? Ostensibly, to prevent young people from initiating nicotine use. As discussed in previous articles, the government has expanded/diverted its interest from reducing smoking rates to reducing the use of nicotine in the population. The argument, in a nutshell, is that if young people are introduced to nicotine via vapour products, they may- one day- decide to smoke. The government intends to head this off by making vapour products so unappealing and ineffective that young people will not experiment with them or, if they do, they will not ‘get hooked’. (The Gazette foreshadows a consultation on flavours in e-liquid, to follow the nicotine limit.) If the Liberals are able to fully enact their anti-vaping agenda, vaping will (theoretically) only appeal to smokers who are already very determined to quit smoking.
What is noticeably missing from the Canada Gazette is how the government intends to address the increase in smoking that they anticipate their initiative will have, though the report is peppered with references to the 5 by 35 goal. (5 by 35 is the long-term goal to decrease smoking rates in Canada from 15% down to 5% of the population by 2035.) It’s an awfully big gamble without any mention of how they intend to control it once the plan is in action.
What they do mention is knowing that 48,000 Canadians die of a smoking-related illness every year and that the harm is not evenly distributed. “Certain groups of Canadians have smoking rates that are considerably higher than that of the general population, including those with lower household incomes, with less education, and with mental health and substance use challenges.”
Smoking rates are higher among Indigenous people (up to 5 times higher), among LGBTQ+ persons, and among people who work in accommodations and food service, extraction services, and construction. The report acknowledges that “people who smoke in these vulnerable groups could have the potential to reduce health inequalities if they completely switch to vaping.” They then go on to say that they haven’t collected the data, so they don’t know if these more vulnerable populations are benefiting from vapour products but assure us that they “will continue to monitor the population and health inequality impacts of tobacco use.”
This single section of the Gazette is perhaps more illuminating than it intends to be. It highlights the reason that the government can issue a release with such wide-reaching and serious implications without much attention from the media, or from the public. Smoking, and by extension vaping, just aren’t part of the mainstream conversation. Although approximately 15% of our population smokes, and most people who vape are former smokers, they tend to be from marginalized communities. Heavy-handed, paternalistic tactics are not an unusual means of controlling these communities, with little to no pushback from the general public. The notion that “some people” just aren’t capable or smart enough to make their own decisions, or to choose properly, without special protection (from government or other authorities) is widely accepted. As is so often the case, this ‘protection’ often involves eliminating less harmful options- forcing higher stakes, as it will here.
If you’re hung up on the question of how this will prevent young people from using nicotine, it isn’t likely to. Any parent whose liquor collection has been breached and watered down will tell you that young people’s standards and tolerances are lower than those of an adult. A lower nicotine limit is not likely to impact the rate at which young people experiment, though it may impact those young people who are vaping instead of smoking. (According to the report, the number one reason cited by young people for vaping is curiosity followed closely by smoking cessation.) The Gazette acknowledges that “Some current smokers who would try vaping products may find that vaping products at 20 mg/mL nicotine or below are not satisfying to them.” Presumably this extends to young people as well.
We don’t have to guess where this is going. The Liberal government has forecast the consequences of reducing the nicotine in vapour products by such a substantial margin. They expect that fewer smokers will find vaping a satisfactory alternative. They expect cigarette sales to increase. They predict that people who are trying to stay off cigarettes will increase the amount that they vape in an effort to satisfy cravings (a silver lining for the industry, they say). And they are pretty sure that not everyone will be able to vape enough to do that, so they’ll return to smoking. (This is all laid out in the Canada Gazette if you’d prefer to read it directly.) They also hope that this may have an impact on youth uptake and in doing, possibly prevent smoking in the future. As for right now, the Liberal message to Canadians seems to be: smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
You can respond to the Canada Gazette directly by contacting:Mr. Mathew Cook
Alternatively, both Rights 4 Vapers and VITA have websites with quick-fill forms that can be used to send a message to Health Canada and to your MP. The websites are rights4vapers.com and reducetheharm.ca.
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