Alberta, the last Canadian province to regulate vaping, held public consultations in November to create vaping rules. Government representatives listened to people from all walks of life, including from industry. There were no surprises from big tobacco and big vape. Their ideas should not guide Alberta.
Much is at stake for tobacco and vaping industries. Increasingly strict smoking regulations have caused cigarette sales to decline for years. With smokers now turning to vaping, are we surprised that industry opposes strict vaping regulations?
The Alberta government heard from four vaping manufacturers, three industry associations and a seller of smokeless tobacco. Our government has reported what industry said.
Industry worries that the government might ban vaping flavours. Nova Scotia recently banned all flavoured pods and e-juices, and the United States has banned fruity and dessert-flavoured pods, while pediatricians demanded a ban on menthol flavour. An Alberta all-flavour ban is possible!
Imperial Tobacco and Imperial Brands, sellers of fruit or dessert-flavoured vaping products, and their industry associations, all opposed banning flavours. Juul is temporarily halting fruit-flavour production to earn “the trust of society.” The manufacturers claim concern about public health: that people need flavours to switch from smoking to vaping. But the evidence that vaping leads to switching is limited and in some cases ambiguous. Many smokers vape and smoke. Rothmans and Benson and Hedges do not sell fruit or dessert flavours, and claim flavours are unnecessary. Industry’s flavour recommendations align with members’ interests.
Yet governments must act in children’s and youths’ best interests. Vaping is harmful. Flavours entice young people to vape and confuse them about whether vaping is safe. Amber Nolan, a Canadian teen hospitalized with vaping lung injury, said flavours are factors in getting people hooked: “There are so many. It’s like candy, you just want to try it all.” Sixty per cent of Canadians want a flavour ban.
Regarding advertising, industry members say they want to market only to adults; yet research shows industry marketing to youth. Although a U.S study reports that in-store advertising encourages young people to vape, Imperial Tobacco and Imperial Brands insisted that they be allowed to advertise in convenience stores. Ontario and Saskatchewan banned retail store advertising.
High nicotine levels addict youth rapidly. Unsurprisingly, almost all industry presenters to government opposed a cap on nicotine, including Juul, which sells pods containing 59 mg/ml of nicotine. To help reduce youth vaping, Alberta could follow British Columbia’s and the European Union’s examples permitting nicotine levels of only 20 mg/ml.
Alberta is finally determined to tax vape products. Industry members generally favour lower tax on vaping products than on tobacco. Taxing tobacco products has consistently been demonstrated to reduce smoking; taxing vaping would likely diminish youth vaping. Sixty-two per cent of Canadians favour a 20 per cent vaping tax as proposed in British Columbia.
To reduce youth vaping, the government could raise the minimum age to 21. Prince Edward Island and the U.S. recently did so. No industry member advised Alberta to raise the age to 21 but such a move could be effective — underage teens have difficulty finding a 21-year-old to purchase for them.
Many Alberta shops are suspected of selling vapes to minors. Although most industry members (7 of 8) recommended store licensing, consequences are more likely to change vendor behaviour. Government should fund more enforcement and revoke licences after one unlawful sale.
We also need programs to help youths quit. Important research showed that youths who vape are more likely to start smoking cigarettes, especially those who would otherwise be unlikely to smoke cigarettes (8.5-fold increased risk).
Alberta cannot afford another generation of nicotine addicts. If nicotine addiction were a flood in our house, then we would quickly turn off the tap. But industry has an interest in maintaining a steady stream of customers for its harmful nicotine products.
The Alberta government’s first priority is to protect the health of our children and youth. To reduce youth vaping, Alberta should ban flavours and advertising, reduce permitted nicotine levels to 20 mg/ml, make vapes unaffordable to the young by taxation, raise the minimum purchase age to 21, license and strictly police retail outlets, and fund effective programs to help children and youth quit vaping and smoking.
Juliet Guichon, Ian Mitchell teach and Sofia Maruschak-Love, Alison Sears, Caitlin Calder-Bellamy, Kate McLennan-Dillabough, Jessica Chong and Alexa Krala are University of Calgary teachers and students; and members of SAAVE: Stop Addicting Adolescents to Vaping and E-Cigarettes.