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Transmission of harm reduction info a point of contention in anticipated vaping bill - Alex McKeen The Star

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Sun., June 25, 2021


When it comes to the cloudy territory of vaping regulations, smoking experts and industry advocates agree that a federal bill can’t arrive to clear the air quickly enough.

Vaping products have been available in Canada for more than half a dozen years — comprising of a variety of devices, such as e-cigarettes, that produce vapour for the purpose of inhalation, come in many flavours and formats and may or may not contain nicotine.

Consensus exists in the scientific community that vaping products are less harmful than cigarettes, says Dr. Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit.

He is quick to add, however, that vaping products are “not benign.”

“Even those who think they’re far less harmful than cigarettes will agree that they are sufficiently harmful such that if you are not a smoker of regular cigarettes you ought not to be using e-cigarettes,” Schwartz said.

Bill S-5, which passed first reading in the House of Commons on June 15, creates a wide-ranging regulatory framework for vape products including quality control provisions and banning the sale of the products to minors.

While advocates openly embrace the bill overall, one clause — which restricts promotion of vaping products that compares their health effects to those of tobacco products — continues to draw concern.

“We don’t believe that we’re in a position to make health claims because we’re not clinicians, we’re not doctors, we’re not scientists,” said Darryl Tempest, executive director of the Canadian Vaping Association. “But we do believe in the harm reduction properties of vaping.”

Industry advocates such as Tempest, and Mississauga-based Moshi Vapor company owner Beju Lakhani, believe that consumers benefit from being given this type of comparative information at the point of sale.

“When consumers reach out, one of the things we often do is try to point them in the right direction so that they can make their own decisions,” Lakhani said.

Tammy Jarbeau, spokesperson for Health Canada, said that eventual regulations under the bill, if it passes, may allow for a limited list of comparative phrases to be used.

There also may be room under the legislation for the dissemination of educational information about the relative risks of vaping and smoking, as long as it is not done for the purpose of promotion.

Schwartz says that the government should be wary of any kind of communication that would constitute marketing of vaping products because for-profit enterprises will always be motivated to attract a bigger customer base.

But he, too, is concerned about the difficulty of conveying to smokers — and only smokers — that there is an alternative option available to them. One way, he said, might be to require vendors or manufacturers of tobacco products to include information about vaping where their products are sold.

Both Tempest and Lakhani praised Bill S-5 overall, saying that regulation of the vaping industry will be necessary for its success as a replacement for tobacco.

“For the industry to survive and thrive and to truly be a viable alternative to smoking for smokers in Canada then the product has to be safe, it has to be regulated and manufacturers have to ensure that they’re abiding by common best practices,” Lakhani said.

If and when Bill S-5 receives Royal Assent, Health Canada will still need to develop specific vaping regulations.

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