The federal government must take immediate action to stop vaping companies from targeting young people, according to two senators who say they will raise the issue once the next session of Parliament begins in December.
In an interview Sunday, Senator Judith Seidman, who served as deputy chair of the social affairs, science and technology committee during the previous Parliament, said the government needs to ban all vaping-related promotions to address the growing youth vaping crisis. The current law prohibits promotion of vaping products or flavours that could appeal to young people and doesn’t allow any lifestyle advertising. But the current situation highlights why an outright ban is needed, she said.
“It’s a lot easier to have a very restrictive bill with regulations that prohibit any advertising or promotion or sponsorships. Total prohibition in the regulations,” said Ms. Seidman, a Conservative senator from Quebec.
A Globe and Mail investigation published Saturday revealed that e-cigarette companies are appealing to young people in Canada through promotion of flavours such as cake, candy and ice cream, as well as advertisements that push lifestyle benefits of vaping. The investigation found companies are hiring social-media influencers to endorse products and run vaping giveaways, boosting child-friendly e-liquid flavours online and running pop-up events staffed by attractive models. Critics say these tactics flout federal laws designed to prevent promotion of vaping as a desirable activity for young people.
Senator Jane Cordy said she is disturbed by promotions targeting young people and fears the increase in youth vaping will lead to a jump in smoking and other health consequences.
“I think Health Canada has to act really quickly on the advertising to youth,” Ms. Cordy said in an interview Sunday. “The tobacco companies are very much involved with the vaping companies and they are marketing to children, to young people.” The senator from Nova Scotia is part of the newly branded Progressive Senate Group.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce his cabinet on Wednesday and the new Parliament convenes on Dec. 5. Both Ms. Seidman and Ms. Cordy said they will raise the issue of vaping in the Senate when they return to Ottawa.
Health Canada said in an e-mailed statement last week that the department has increased enforcement of vaping-product regulations. Inspectors seized more than 60,000 non-compliant products from specialty vape shops and convenience stores between July and October, according to the statement. Inspectors visited about 1,000 locations during that period.
The vast majority – about three-quarters – of specialty vape shops inspected by Health Canada were selling and promoting products that violate federal law, according to the department. The most common violations were promoting child-friendly flavours and using testimonials to promote products. Under federal law, testimonials include any promotions that feature people, characters or animals.
The Canadian Medical Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups are calling on the federal government to ban e-cigarette advertising and the sale of any flavoured vaping products to make them less appealing to young people. Andrew Pipe, chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, said the numerous examples of vape companies seeming to target young people demonstrate the current approach isn’t working.
“Regulations without enforcement are virtually meaningless,” he said.
On Thursday, B.C. announced it is increasing the tax on vaping products, will ban flavours that could appeal to children, cap nicotine levels and restrict public advertising for vape products. Last month, Ontario said it will ban vaping ads in gas stations and convenience stores as of Jan. 1, 2020, while Nova Scotia’s government said it will consider a ban on e-cigarette flavours. Some provinces, including Quebec and Manitoba, have already banned most forms of e-cigarette advertising. Quebec also bans online sales of e-cigarettes to minors and is seen by many tobacco control advocates as having the strongest e-cigarette legislation in Canada. Health experts say the patchwork of provincial rules highlights why strong federal regulations are needed.
Members of the e-cigarette industry interviewed by The Globe say they comply with federal rules and are committed to ensuring products don’t end up in the hands of minors. The industry says their target is existing adult smokers.
“The majority of our membership … they’re very responsible, they’re complying with the act completely," said Charles Pisano, vice-president of the Canadian Vaping Association, which represents more than 300 retail and online vaping businesses in Canada.
But Ms. Seidman said youth vaping rates in Canada and the proliferation of ads that appear to target young people suggest otherwise.
“They’re in the money-making business. They’re not there to protect the health of our kids,” she said.
In February, Health Canada signalled it will move to further restrict e-cigarette advertising, including promotions in public places where young people could be exposed to them, such as public transit, broadcast media during, before or after children’s programs, and child-oriented websites. In April, Health Canada held a public consultation on other possible restrictions, such as prohibiting certain flavours and capping nicotine levels.
It’s unclear whether any proposed restrictions would apply to social-media platforms not specifically oriented to children, including Facebook and Instagram. It’s also unclear when or if any of these rules would take effect.
Ms. Seidman said even if the government moves to ban vaping promotions, it will take a significant effort to get the youth vaping crisis under control.
“It’s sort of like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube,” she said. “I really worry the trend is there. The kids are already hooked on this stuff.”