December 17, 2019
Alarming evidence of the risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes makes the news almost every week.
The harms — especially to young people — are becoming increasingly clear: there is a strong relationship between e-cigarette use and the start of cigarette smoking, and vaping-linked illnesses are sending people to hospital.
Vaping products are relatively new to the Canadian market. Since their arrival in 2007, there has been spirited debate involving health experts, legislators, educators and the public about the potential harms and benefits of these products.
Researchers have come a long way in their understanding of how these products are used. They have potential value in helping smokers quit cigarettes — but we have also seen their use by teenagers rapidly increase.
To address and reduce the harms of tobacco use in Canada, the federal government was pressed to establish a strong regulatory framework that would allow adults access to legal alternatives to tobacco products while keeping harmful products away from underage users.
This was the main intent of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, which became law in May 2018. This legislation was designed to give the federal government new powers to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping products as the market for these products expanded rapidly.
As legislators, we looked forward to the government’s timely use of these new powers to ensure vaping products were carefully regulated.
The evidence we have today is clear. It compels us to take immediate action to regulate vaping products.
There is a strong relationship between youth vaping and smoking, and the data also show that the long-term effects of high-dose nicotine exposure on the adolescent brain are similar to those of alcohol or cannabis: memory loss and decreased attention span.
Even more alarming, the Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed 14 cases of severe lung illness related to vaping in Canada, with one life-threatening case linked to flavoured compounds found in the e-liquid.
Time is of the essence. In the 20th century, decades of weak rules for cigarette advertising meant that far too many young people became addicted to smoking, with long-term health consequences that are still playing out today.
We cannot afford to make the same mistakes we made then.
This leaves us with the question: What should be done?
Health Canada is in the process of finalizing regulations on vaping products. This is a perfect opportunity for the government to introduce further safeguards.
Health experts and advocates such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society urge that the following measures be adopted:
1. A ban on the sale of flavoured vaping products marketed to youth, as recent evidence suggests that these flavoured products are driving the increase in vaping by teenagers. (Nova Scotia has already announced that flavoured vaping products will be banned as of April 1.)
2. A ban on vaping and e-cigarette advertising in places where young people gather, such as malls and corner stores, and on social media. The rules should match those that already exist for tobacco.
3. Lower the maximum concentration of nicotine found in e-liquids from 66 mg/ml to 20 mg/ml, as recent studies show that high concentrations of nicotine have resulted in higher nicotine dependence levels, especially among teenage users.
Provinces and municipalities across the country are already addressing this growing concern.
Now is the time for the federal government to join them.
Our children’s health depends on it.
Senator Chantal Petitclerc is a Paralympic champion and health advocate. Senator Judith G. Seidman is an epidemiologist and health researcher. They served as sponsor and critic of Bill S-5, the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act.
This OPED was published in the Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday, December 17, 2019