A letter to Hon. Patty Hajdu, Federal Minister of Health:

Subject: Youth vaping crisis

Dear Ms. Hajdu:

As a lifelong anti-tobacco/anti-nicotine activist, I'm extremely concerned about the ever-growing youth vaping crisis.

I'd like to provide a couple of useful quotes.  The first (item 7, of 22) is from the Mandate Letter that the Prime Minister recently issued to you:  "In cooperation with other orders of government and key stakeholders1, address the rapid rise in youth vaping. This should start with regulations to reduce the promotion and appeal of vaping products to young people and public education to create awareness of health risks. You are encouraged to explore additional measures." (emphasis added)  The second one is a quote from you, from a Dec 19, 2019 Financial Post article, entitled, "Canadian health minister proposes bans on vaping product advertising": “We are working with experts and all Canadians to find ways to prevent youth from vaping. The new measures announced today will help, but there is more to do.” (again, emphasis added)  I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist (nor do I belong to any of the "mainstream" anti-tobacco organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, the Lung Association, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, etc.) but, given my 4 decades plus of activism in this field, globally, I do consider myself an expert.

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist -- and with the utmost of respect -- ad bans, plain packing, big bold (and gross) health warnings and all of the education in the world will achieve little or nothing.  Frankly, all of those measures -- and more (i.e., the exact same things that apply to conventional cigarettes and all other tobacco products) -- should have been in place before e-cigs were allowed on the market!

As you know, Ms. Hajdu, for several decades, the youth smoking rate declined... until it 'plateaued' about 10 years ago, at about 15%.  As a direct result of the youth vaping crisis, the youth smoking rate is now dramatically increasing as well.  That tells me that, if we're serious about reducing -- or, ideally, putting a complete stop to -- youth vaping, we must take much more aggressive action than was (and continues to be) taken to tackle youth smoking.

Canada was, once upon a time, a world leader in tobacco control.  I fondly remember a time when one 'tobacco control' bill or another when come up in Parliament...and most often, it passed, with all-party support (except during ex-tobacco executive Paul Martin's reign as Finance Minister, then PM)!  I don't know where Canada ranks now, in terms of tobacco/nicotine control, but I can tell you that more than 40 countries around the world have either never allowed e-cigarettes or they saw the crisis coming, nipped it in the bud and simply banned them, entirely.

Ideally, I'd like to see a complete ban on e-cigs in Canada too, but I don't see that happening any time soon so, in lieu...  In addition to the aforementioned ad bans, plain packing, health warnings, education -- and flavours ban2 -- I'd like to suggest the following:  make e-cigarettes available by prescription only.

Tobacco/Nicotine executives are not be be believed (remember when seven of them swore, under oath [in the U.S. Congress] that nicotine is not addictive?).  Well, there's one exception to that rule:  Lately, they've been saying, "E-cigarettes are only for adult smokers who want to switch to a less harmful3 product" and "Kids should not use e-cigarettes."  Just between you and I, I seriously question their sincerity; that said, I believe we should take them at their word... and help them achieve that 'noble' objective... and nothing -- nothing -- will achieve that objective as quickly and effectively as making e-cigarettes available by prescription only.

As is so often the case, "the devil" is in the details.  I've given a great deal of thought to all of those details... and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why, with a little bit of political will, this idea wouldn't work.

I'm ready, willing and able to discuss this idea with you further...preferably, in person but, if that's not an option, then via telephone or e-mail.  And, perhaps during that discussion, I'd be happy to share my Thunder Bay story with you.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Errol E. Povah
President, Airspace Action on Smoking and Health

1 When the Prime Minister says, "key stakeholders", I do hope he's NOT including tobacco/nicotine executives, as that could contravene of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty to which Canada became a party about 15 years ago.

2 Regarding (e-cig) flavour bans, it seems virtually everyone (depending on which side of the issue they're on)  wants to ban ALL flavours or ban NONE OF THEM.  Well, it's my opinion that they should all be banned (certainly "bubble gum", "candy cane", alcohol flavours, etc.... last I heard, there are 7,000 flavours!?!), except for 2, 3, maybe 4.   My reason for a few exceptions:  While the numbers of smokers who have successfully quit smoking as a result of using e-cigarettes have been grossly exaggerated under the current "wild west" conditions, I strongly believe that, if e-cigs were available by prescription only, those numbers would actually rise, dramatically.  That said, the prescription vaping experience would have to be somewhat palatable, otherwise the smoker will reject the e-cigs and just continue smoking.

3 Initially, Big Tobacco/Big Nicotine claimed that vaping was "safer" than smoking.  Since there is no such thing as a safe/safer tobacco/nicotine product, there was a huge backlash...and the industry now uses the only-slightly-more-accurate term "less harmful".