DATE: FEB 15, 2017
TITLE: E77 – STRIKING BALANCE – HEALTH CANADA ON VAPING– PART 1
Brent Stafford: Hi, I’m Brent Stafford, and this is Reg Watch by RegulatorWatch.com. Over the next few months, the future of vaping in Canada is going to be decided here at our nation’s capital on Parliament Hill and in the bureaucratic offices of Health Canada where we’re taking you for an exclusive, in-depth discussion with the lead policymakers on vaping.
Suzy, thanks for joining us today on Reg Watch. So many of our viewers know that Health Canada plays a critical role in the development of regulations for products such as vaping, but they [00:00:30] know very little about what Health Canada does. What’s your role in regards to vaping?
Suzy McDonald: Well, thank you very much for having me. I’m the Director General of the Tobacco Control Directorate here at Health Canada. Our role is really to regulate tobacco products under The Tobacco Act, and now, under this proposed piece of legislation, to look at vaping products as a separate class of products under The Tobacco Act.
Brent Stafford: There was some discussion or concern for a while that vaping might be considered a tobacco product because in some of the provinces it’s actually been defined [00:01:00] that way. How has Health Canada approached that issue?
Suzy McDonald: Under the proposed legislation, again, vaping products, both those containing nicotine and those not containing nicotine, would be considered a separate class of products under what would be called The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, a new piece of legislation.
Brent Stafford: How did we get here to this point where vaping products are to be regulated?
Suzy McDonald: Actually, vaping products are currently regulated under The Food and Drugs Act, and any product containing nicotine really should be receiving approval through The Food and Drugs Act before it comes on to the market. [00:01:30] The reality is is that vaping products are widely available in Canada, and a result of the lack of conclusive evidence, the former minister of health asked the standing committee on health to review the issue of e-cigarettes and vaping products and to make recommendations. That committee came forward with 14 recommendations that received all-party support, and this piece of legislation really responds to that report from the standing committee.
Brent Stafford: Is vaping legal today?
Suzy McDonald: Vaping products that contain nicotine should receive approval through The Food and Drugs Act before coming to market. [00:02:00] To my knowledge, no product has received such approval, so products containing nicotine that are on the market are there illegally.
Brent Stafford: So once Bill S5, it passes, and receives royal assent, will vaping be legal in Canada? Vaping with nicotine?
Suzy McDonald: The idea is, indeed, upon royal assent of Bill S5, the vast majority of products out there in the market containing nicotine would become legal.
Brent Stafford: That should be considered good news, then, for vapers in Canada.
Suzy McDonald: I would think so.
Brent Stafford: Now, one of the things that came out of the [Hesser 00:02:26] report was a strong inclination to [00:02:30] regard vaping products as harm reduction, though when you look at the Bill S5, you don’t really see harm reduction in there at all. Is vaping harm reduction?
Suzy McDonald: Well, I really think what Bill S5 aims to do is really to balance the issue of allowing adults, particularly adult smokers, legal access to vaping products as a likely less harmful alternative to tobacco products, while still protecting youth from nicotine addiction and potential inducement to use tobacco products, all with keeping health and safety of Canadians [00:03:00] in mind.
Brent Stafford: Could you clarify a little bit that likely less addictive or less harmful? What’s the word in the position there exactly?
Suzy McDonald: The position is likely less harmful, and the idea here is that we know that tobacco products kill one in two long-term users. Over 37,000 Canadians die as a result of using tobacco, smoking in particular. One Canadian every 14 minutes. What we do know is that the evidence right now is indicating that that same level of harm is not evident in vaping products.
Brent Stafford: [00:03:30] The likely less, I like that, and I was in the Minister’s press release prior to the dropping of the bill. My issue, and the issue that vapers have and those in the industry and some others, is that the no comparisons clause, as it is right now, will mean that nobody’s going to be able to compare vaping products to traditional cigarettes, including the government. What you just said, in terms of likely less harmful, [00:04:00] is not something that would be allowed to be said, or are we reading that incorrectly?
Suzy McDonald: The issue is that under the proposed legislation, there remains a pathway to market if you would like to claim that your product is less harmful or that it could help you quit smoking, and if you want to do that, you can go through The Food and Drugs Act, make those claims, and be approved and regulated under The Food and Drugs Act. Under the proposed Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, indeed, the idea is that you would not be making claims that look at relative risk.
Brent Stafford: Here’s my problem is that [00:04:30] literally what the government is saying about vaping products in terms of its relationship to tobacco, that comparison can’t even be made by government anymore if Bill S5 goes into place.
Suzy McDonald: What we’re doing is making sure that adults who use tobacco products have an alternative available to them, making it legally available to them, and, indeed, what we’re trying to do is avoid this idea of relative risk being made without having the evidence reviewed by Health Canada.
Brent Stafford: Who’s going to [00:05:00] be the arbitrer of that evidence because if the public doesn’t have it, if the industry can’t talk about it … What about the [U Vic’s 00:05:10] study, for instance? I mean are researchers not going to be able in Canada put out research anymore that might show the comparison between vaping and tobacco products and traditional tobacco products? Or, if researchers are allowed to, then are Canadians not allowed to take that research and share it with other Canadians? This is the problem in S5.
Suzy McDonald: [00:05:30] There are no restrictions in S5 in terms of researchers’ ability to continue to do their research and to make that research public. Indeed, Health Canada is very committed to reviewing the evidence on a regular basis. We’re working with the Canadian Institutes on Health Research to set up an external expert body that would review the evidence on a regular basis, likely every two years, provide advice to Health Canada on what that evidence is saying.
Right now, really the goal is to protect Canadians, but understanding that we can make these products [00:06:00] legally accessible to smokers in the hopes that they will use those products and potentially move away from traditional tobacco products.
Brent Stafford: What do you think about the Royal College Physicians Report, Nicotine without Smoke? They made some pretty strong recommendations to regulators worldwide to ease up on e-cigarettes? Not only that, but to make them available to people?
Suzy McDonald: I don’t want to talk about that report specifically, but what I will say is Canada is, in fact, making the product legal to smokers.
Brent Stafford: Why couldn’t you talk about the RCP Report?
Suzy McDonald: I [00:06:30] just think that there’s lots of evidence that’s emerging. That’s one report. You spoke of the U Vic Report earlier. There are many, many different pieces of literature and information available. Taking any one of them out of context of all the others might not be appropriate.
Brent Stafford: Okay. It was interesting for me about the U Vic Report because that’s a Canadian Institute of Research.
Suzy McDonald: Correct. It was funded through CIHR.
Brent Stafford: Right. That’s kind of overseen by Health Canada, is it not?
Suzy McDonald: It’s overseen by the Minister of Health. Yeah. It’s part of the health portfolio.
Brent Stafford: It’s kind of research from in the family.
Suzy McDonald: It [00:07:00] is.
Brent Stafford: So did that mean something special because it’s kind of the RCP Report of Canada?
Suzy McDonald: Again, part of the job of Health Canada is to take a look at all of that evidence, including evidence generated by CIHR and bringing it into our decision-making process. We’ve done that to date and we’ll continue to do that through our relationship with CIHR and others. I really think right now it’s up to, frankly, our parliamentarians to decide whether or not we’ve gotten that balance right.
Brent Stafford: Many of our viewers feel that there’s been a misinformation campaign against vaping. One of the things [00:07:30] that clearly can point to that is last year was the first time ever that more people, regular people, thought that vaping was as harmful or even more harmful than smoking. That doesn’t happen unless it’s purposefully been done. Is Health Canada aware of that? What can you say to that and how can that be prevented when S5 is in place?
Suzy McDonald: Health Canada is certainly aware of the various views because we do have studies that we do, including The Canadian [00:08:00] Tobacco and Alcohol, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, and the student version of that that looks at those various risk perceptions, including potentially harms or views of harms. We’ve taken that into consideration. I think that as more and more evidence emerges, Canadians, just like others, will become more informed about what vaping products are, and I do think that the step to make what is currently an illegal product if it contains nicotine a legal product sends a certain message as well.
Brent Stafford: You just said that Canadians will become more [00:08:30] informed over time? How? If S5 comes in, industry can’t pass that information along? How are Canadians going to get more information about vaping if S5 is in place?
Suzy McDonald: I think information around vaping and other products comes from a whole variety of sources. Industry is one source, but certainly their medical professionals is another source. Certainly research that’s done or medical journals. We recently held some public opinion research testing with youth and they tell us [00:09:00] that they go to research journals all the time to look at information, and finally, Health Canada as a regulator can provide information as well.
Brent Stafford: Can you make a commitment to Canadians that if there is positive vaping information out there, over the course of time, you’ll make sure it gets out to Canadians?
Suzy McDonald: Health Canada’s job is to make sure that we’re protecting the health and safety of Canadians, and making sure that we’re doing that in terms of providing information to Canadians. That’s what we do.
Brent Stafford: Well, that’s it for this addition of Reg Watch. Make sure to stay [00:09:30] tuned for part two of our discussion with Suzy McDonald, and, before you head off, don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For RegulatorWatch.com, I’m Brent Stafford.