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Trevor Hancock: Vaping products should be subject to same marketing ban as tobacco

Canada should ban all advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship involving vaping companies to avoid hooking a new generation of smokers
WHO reported in ­December that studies consistently show that young people who use ­e-cigarettes are almost three times more likely to use ­cigarettes later in life, writes ­Trevor Hancock. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tobacco is the forgotten pandemic in Canada. While much attention has been focused on the opioid ­overdose crisis, COVID, alcohol use and other popular issues, tobacco use remains, to this day, “the leading ­preventable cause of premature death in Canada,” according to a July 2023 Health Canada report.

Health Canada reports tobacco killed approximately 46,000 Canadians in 2020.

While the number of deaths is slowly declining as a result of decades of work to control tobacco — work the industry did all it could to stop, delay and weaken — this is still one in seven of all deaths.

In fact, Health Canada reports, since 2000, ­“cigarettes have killed more than 1 million people in Canada.”

For comparison, there were almost 4,000 deaths from opioid toxicity in the first six months of 2023 (so around 8,000 deaths annually) and about 4,000 deaths from alcohol use in 2021.

In fact, the tobacco industry killed more people in one year than the drug dealers killed in the seven and a half years from January 2016 to June 2023, a truly shocking fact that deserves much greater attention.

In another useful comparison, while COVID has killed about 57,000 Canadians since January 2020, in those same four years, tobacco killed nearly 200,000 Canadians.

That cost Canada an estimated $11.2 billion in 2020, according to a 2023 report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, with direct health costs totalling $5.4 billion.

So you would think we would be doing everything possible to stamp out this lethal industry. Indeed, the Canadian government’s Tobacco Strategy “is designed to help achieve the target of less than five per cent tobacco use by 2035,” euphemistically known as “smoke-free,” and the latest data suggest we may be heading that way.

In 2022, Statistics Canada reports, only 9.3 per cent of Canadians 24 and older (8.3 per cent of women and 10.3 per cent of men) reported daily cigarette smoking.

Rates among younger people are much lower — 2.6 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds and only one per cent of those ages 15-19. This suggests the government’s target might be attainable.

But missing from the strategy is any reference to creating a tobacco-free generation by using ­legislation to prevent the sale and supply of tobacco to ­individuals born after a certain year, something the U.K.­ ­government intends to do.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is promoting vaping as a “safer” alternative, and as an aid in quitting smoking.

Troublingly, the same 2022 Statistics Canada survey found that 6.5 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds and 10.1 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds reported daily use of vaping, compared to just two per cent of those 25 and older.

Clearly, the tobacco industry has been successfully working to create a new market by targeting youth.

However, the WHO reported in December 2023 that “E-cigarettes as consumer products are not shown to be effective for quitting tobacco use at the ­population level. Instead, alarming evidence has emerged on adverse population health effects,” adding: “Kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use ­e-cigarettes and may get hooked to nicotine.”

Moreover, WHO adds, “studies consistently show that young people that use e-cigarettes are almost three times more likely to use cigarettes later in life.”

The U.K. government is very clear on this: ­“Encouraging children to use a product designed for adults to quit smoking and then addicting them is not acceptable,” the government notes in its 2023 Stopping the Start policy paper.

It is time Canada applied the same rules to vaping as it does to tobacco and banned all advertising, ­marketing, promotion and sponsorship.

The tobacco industry makes and sells a product that, when used exactly as intended, is addictive and will kill at least half and maybe two-thirds of its users — ­something the British government notes no other ­consumer product does.

It is the prime example of a tendency seen in far too many corporations — they care only about the health of their profits and not at all about the health of the public.

The leaders of this industry are not people that should be accepted in society, but should be shunned, ostracised for the evil work they do.

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Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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