While American vapers have been stuck in the purgatory of the FDA’s deeming process, our closest neighbors have been waiting for word from their government on the next step for vaping. Canada finally announced its proposed federal vaping regulations Tuesday, and on first look there’s some good, some bad, and a whole lot of uncertainty.
Up till now, Canada’s vaping world has been very similar to the U.S. model, with one major exception: importing nicotine for recreational products is not strictly legal. That hasn’t prevented e-liquid makers and vape shops from springing up across the country though. And so far, the national authorities haven’t consistently enforced the rules. But the fact is they’re still there, and they could be enforced at any time.
Coming soon, that will all change. The government has announced legislation that will allow a rewrite of its Tobacco Act to include vapor products — and to regulate the two somewhat separately. No longer will nicotine be the elephant in the room no one speaks of. Nicotine will be legal and available. That’s the good part.
Won't someone please think of the children?!
The revamped Tobacco Act — to be combined with the Non-smokers’ Health Act, and called the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) — is really just a foundation for specific regulations yet to be announced. There is very little detail in the proposed law.
As it stands, the TVPA has just general rules like age and advertising restrictions, and some limitations on e-liquids that are fairly bizarre. I’m not a regulatory attorney, but it seems the TVPA will make candy-, dessert-, and soft drink-flavored e-liquid verboten unless the labels and marketing avoid words or pictures that tell the truth about what the flavor includes. So a manufacturer could, for example, call their chocolate and coconut liquid Sewage Juice, but not Choconut. See no evil, taste no evil.
The really scary part is that the act clears the way for the federal government to add any number of compliance requirements in the future. It refers to standards and rules for reporting that no one has yet seen, and asks the Canadian Parliament to approve the TVPA without knowing what those will be.
Guess who the regulations are meant to benefit? “The new federal regime would regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of vaping products and would include provisions such as restricting sales to youth, restricting certain flavours, like candy, that appeal to youth, and measures such as child-resistant packaging to help protect children from nicotine poisoning,” says Minister of Health Jane Philpott. Of course, everything is being done in the name of the children.
There is clear evidence that nicotine exposure during adolescence adversely affects cognitive function and development. Nicotine is also a potent and powerfully addictive substance, particularly for youth. There are concerns that vaping products could potentially lead to nicotine addiction, the use of tobacco products, and the renormalization of smoking behaviours. The proposed legislation would establish a flexible regime that can be adjusted as the science on vaping products develops.
The “clear evidence” is the famous rodent study that showed “adolescent” rats seem to be affected by nicotine. The “powerfully addictive” claim comes from smoking studies. The renormalization concern is made up. And the “flexible regime,” well…that’s just scary.
Leaving the regulation open to future changes opens the door for any demagogue with an axe to grind and a good megaphone to add restrictions based on ginned-up worries yet to be enumerated. Who thinks it’s unlikely that politicians in Canada will grab a soapbox and start howling about “the children”? Want to bet on it?
The TVPA is just fine, says the Canadian Cancer Society. Their spokesman told the CBC, “The new federal legislation will deal areas of federal responsibility, such as advertising and promotion, packaging, the product itself, use in federally regulated workplaces and public places.”
Demand the details
If the Canadian government wants to create a law that benefits vapers and smokers, the federal agency needs to show the public the details. Until the entire proposal — with all the specific rules and requirements — is visible, Canadian vapers should think twice about supporting the TVPA. They should be demanding openness and transparency from their government, and reminding their MP’s who the real stakeholders are.
Canadian vapers need to organize, and a high profile consumer organization is badly needed. It seems that to date, only trade groups have the ear of the government. Like all good commercial business representatives, those groups fight for the interests of their members. That’s fine, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit the vapers and smokers the law will most affect.
Also it doesn’t appear the TVPA prevents tobacco companies from getting into the game. Up until now, they’ve shied away because of the restriction on importing nicotine or nicotine-containing products. No longer. That brings another voice to the discussion, and it’s a voice backed by unlimited money and distribution power.
Vapers need a voice in Canada too. They need a group that represents them — not businesses, and not children who have no end of voices fighting to speak for them. Stop trusting others to stand up for your rights. Canada has a chance to get this right, and be a world leader in advocating vaping as tobacco harm reduction. But it could also go very, very wrong.