TRANSCRIPT – Part 2 | Big Issues | Health Canada on Vaping


DATE: FEB 17, 2017


Brent Stafford: Hi I’m Brent Stafford and this is Reg Watch by We’re here in Ottawa, Parliament Hill, for part two of our discussion with Suzy McDonald from Health Canada.


You certainly are on the forefront. You have been representing Canada at the World Health Organization. Describe a little bit about your experience there and how the prospect for vaping worldwide looks similar or different to Canada.


Suzy McDonald:

So what I would say is that across the globe, regulators have taken a very different approach to vaping products and you see everything from no regulation to full bans, depending on the various jurisdictions.


Indeed while Canada was at the conference of the parties which was held this fall in India, we worked to try and achieve a consensus decision that would make sure that countries could regulate vaping products in the way that best fit their own national circumstances. And that is the decision that was come to and it is available publicly on the WHO web site.



Brent Stafford:


Canada is trail blazing a little bit in this area, is it not?


Suzy McDonald: We are taking a bit of a different approach than many other countries have taken. We are moving to make an illegal product legal. We are acknowledging that moving smokers from traditional tobacco products to vaping products could be in the interest of public health. And that’s why we’ve taken the approach we’re taking.


Brent Stafford: Does Health Canada see vaping as an end game for tobacco?


Suzy McDonald:


I think Health Canada takes a broader view and you may have heard that the federal tobacco control strategy is set to expire, that the Minister asked for a one year extension to that strategy to consult broadly with Canadians. She’s moving forward with that consultation, including a national forum March 1st and 2nd in Ottawa, and as part of that I think discussions around end game or the role of vaping products or other products in terms of getting us to a point where commercial tobacco use decreases is on the table.





Brent Stafford:

A year after Bill S-5 receives royal ascent, now of course there’s a lot of changes that are going to happen in between the time from now and when it becomes law, and then after that Health Canada is still going to have a process of actually writing regulations. Is that not correct?


Suzy McDonald: That’s correct.


Brent Stafford: Describe that process of what’s going to happen when you know Health Canada gets it’s hands on it and starts you know putting the real pen to paper.


Suzy McDonald: In terms of regulatory process specifically or what our intentions are under the regulations?


Brent Stafford: Well, if you want to tell me what your intentions are, I’d love to hear them.


Suzy McDonald:

Well Health Canada does plan to take a staged approach to the regulatory process for vaping products. There are a series of regulation making authorities in the proposed legislation. We’d like to focus first very likely on labeling. Particularly looking at stuff around information to consumers, the idea that nicotine is addictive, or that the product contains nicotine. We’d also be looking at some reporting requirements to better understand the market and how that market is evolving to help us better position our policy direction moving forward.



Brent Stafford:


Let me ask you about nicotine. It’s always been the elephant in the room. Many doctors have talked to us and said it’s not really as addictive as has been said. It’s been demonized. What’s the answer on nicotine?


Suzy McDonald: I’m sure you’ve heard it on your program before, but it’s not the nicotine that kills Canadians. It really is the delivery device. And in the case of combustible tobacco products, smoking, it is the cigarette that is killing Canadians.



Nicotine in itself though does have some potential harms. There are risks to the developing brain of youth in particular. Also risks for pregnant women and others. So we need to balance all of that. But it is part of the reason that we are making these products legal, nicotine containing products legal, is because moving people out of traditional, and when I say traditional I mean smoking, out of smoking combustible tobacco products, to a cleaner source of nicotine, very likely as we have already talked about we would expose them to fewer harms.


Brent Stafford:

So it would be incorrect for someone to believe that Health Canada is saying that adults aren’t allowed to use nicotine or that you’re advocating complete abstinence from nicotine.





Suzy McDonald: I think in an ideal world you wouldn’t use nicotine unless you had to.


Brent Stafford: Same with coffee though. In an ideal world.


Suzy McDonald: In an ideal world you wouldn’t use nicotine unless you had to. And so what we’re really trying to do here is make available a product to people who are already smokers to tobacco users in a cleaner form.


Brent Stafford: So what if an adult who never was a smoker decided to pick up vaping because they wanted to enjoy recreational nicotine?



Suzy McDonald:


Again, ideally we’d be protecting both smokers and others.


Brent Stafford: People will say that’s puritanical.


Suzy McDonald: Well the reality is that vaping products aren’t without risk. There are some risks associated with vaping products and so ideally people would just be breathing clean air and not using nicotine. And we are the Department of Health and so we advocate breathing clean air and not using nicotine.


Brent Stafford:

There is some logic to that. Let’s move to flavors for the moment. It’s very contentions issue. For many vapers it’s the heart of the issue. Well, it’s so much the enjoyment comes out of the flavors. The variety and mix of flavors goes to the success of vaping in both individually and recognized by researchers as being a critical component to the success of vaping for people who are trying to quit smoking.


But it’s an issue for legislators and regulators is it not?


Suzy McDonald:

Well I think I come back to the same issue around balance. How do we balance the needs of current smokers that are using vaping products and where flavors might make that product more palatable to them, along with the need of protecting youth from potential nicotine addiction or from trying something because it has a candy flavor for example.






And so what we’ve tried to do is create a very balanced approach. We’ve recognized that there is likely a need to have some flavors, that that’s part of the vaping experience but at the same time with over 7000 flavors on the market we are, or the legislation is proposing that we prohibit the promotion of flavors that are specifically appealing to youth including candy, deserts.


Brent Stafford: The arguments made though that once it’s banned for people that are under 19, isn’t that enough?







Suzy McDonald:





Well I think what we find is that in fact evidence shows that that’s not enough in the world of tobacco control and we’re trying to take a proactive approach to make sure that we are protecting kids from again becoming addicted to nicotine. We do know that nicotine is more harmful for youth than it is for adults. So in taking that approach, we’re creating a very balanced environment where adults can access flavors. We understand that fruit flavor is the most popular flavor amongst adults. It’s still available on the market. But we’re trying to really restrict the promotion particularly as I said, we see all kinds of things out there around candy flavors or other things, making sure that’s not appealing to youth.


Brent Stafford: Let me ask you the same question I ask everybody. It seems that regulators are throwing adult smokers under the bus for the sake of protecting youth.



Suzy McDonald:


So I think again what we’re doing here really is allowing adult smokers access to an illegal product, a currently illegal product, making that legal to them. I think that that ensures they are able to use the product effectively, and it really is important to protect our kids. Nobody wants their child to smoke.


Brent Stafford: Do you believe it’s a gateway?


Suzy McDonald: I think the evidence on gateway, like everything else on e-cigarettes continues to evolve. There’s evidence that suggests it is, there’s evidence that suggests it’s not. What we want to do is to make sure, that we’re putting in place the appropriate regulations so that it is not a gateway.



Brent Stafford:


Theoretically, people could present an argument that the precautionary principle is a bit suspect. Because you know, you’re taking away the liberties of adults for the sake of protecting somebody else. General interest, the public. But yet the harm isn’t proven yet.


Suzy McDonald:


Let me just reiterate tobacco kills one in two long term users. Any child that smokes risks 50% that they will lose their life as a result of smoking. That’s a serious health consequence and that needs to be taken into consideration.


Brent Stafford:





Canadians who smoke and now vape feel like they’ve gone through this arduous process. Years and years and years of killing themselves with tobacco. You finally quit, and what was it? It was a ground up, consumer lead smoker lead solution to a problem that didn’t demand abstinence. That allowed them to keep a measure of the pleasure and experience of smoking as well as dramatically reduce their risk. And for them they have a common sense understanding of what vaping is.






To them, they thought Health Canada and the Canadian government were going to be an ally. Instead they see Health Canada as in bed with big tobacco, part of lobbying with pharmaceuticals. They don’t know who the enemy is. They just know government is not their friend.


Suzy McDonald:

Well I think that tobacco addiction is a terrible thing and that smokers indeed struggle with quitting and with other things. I think what we’re doing again with Bill S-5 is that we’re taking a product that currently they are accessing illegally and we’re making it legal for them to use that product.


Brent Stafford: Do you acknowledge they feel let down?


Suzy McDonald: I’m not sure how to acknowledge that other than again to say we are moving in a direction that allows them legal access to a product that there’s great consumer demand for and that’s a step in the right direction.



Brent Stafford:


What do you see the future for vapers 10 years down the road in Canada?


Suzy McDonald: I don’t think anybody can look 10 years down the road. I mean if you look back 10 years ago, vaping products were just emerging on the market and look how far they’ve come. Look how the market has evolved. We’ve gone from cigalites being the majority of the market to them making up probably less than 2% of the overall market.




I expect it will continue to evolve dramatically and again that’s why we’re including this requirement to update the science on a regular basis. It’s why we’re looking at asking industry to report in so that we can understand what that market looks like and so that we can be moving forward in a way that makes sense.


Brent Stafford: Well that’s it for this special edition of Reg Watch. Before you head off, please like us on Facebook and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.


For, in Ottawa, I’m Brent Stafford.




Big Issues | Health Canada on Vaping | Part 2


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