In the Regina Leader-Post today I write about Canadian e-cigarette rules. Both the U.S. and E.U. have moved ahead with new rules. Should Canada?
Why Aren’t We Regulating E-Cigarettes?
Recently, the regulation and use of e-cigarettes in Canada, the U.S. and European Union has raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians, and health officials. Now, the U.S. and the EU have moved forward with new policies and Canada is being left in the dust.
In the U.K., an estimated 2.6 million people use e-cigs, prompting more calls for regulation. And this week, new regulations go into effect.
These include rules that limit the size of refill containers and the potency. All packaging must be “child proof.” Manufacturers will be asked to submit to government scrutiny. Finally, if three EU member states express a willingness to ban e-cigs, it will be possible to start a process banning them across the whole of the union.
Last week, the U.S. government also took broad steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes, which have been growing in popularity among teens and are projected to be a $4-billion industry this year.
The Food and Drug Administration’s move brought regulation of e-cigarettes in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. This action had been anticipated after the FDA issued a proposed rule two years ago on how to supervise the e-cigarette industry.
“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said. She suggested that health officials still don’t have scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, as the industry asserts, and thus avoid the known ills of tobacco.
In Canada, considering that both the Harper Conservatives and Trudeau Liberals have dithered on crafting any meaningful policy, perhaps it would be easiest simply to follow the lead of the EU or U.S.
First, e-cigarettes have not been proven as a legitimate and conclusive aid in quitting smoking. Anecdotally, many believe they are a useful harm-reduction tool. Many former smokers praise the devices, while many physicians and public health experts also support their use. Yet, there is anything but scientific or medical consensus on the e-cig.
Second, the flavoured liquid that substitutes for nicotine lacks proper regulatory standards, so the safety is problematic. Business owners either can craft the liquid themselves or purchase it from anywhere they wish. This raises questions of security. It’s basically a “wild west” market. Without appropriate controls over the liquid mixing process or the supply and distribution chain, consumer protection is weakened. It is unthinkable that a pharmacy down the block could operate in an unregulated, unstandardized environment.
Also, a recent report in the U.S. found that e-cigs have “sickened rising numbers of young children,” and in most cases this involved swallowing liquid nicotine. In Lethbridge, an e-cig exploded in the face of young Ty Greer. It “lit his face on fire,” knocked out teeth and seared the back of his throat. The young man will bear the scars of this accident forever.
Do such examples mean we ought to crack down hard and regulate this market out of existence? No. Does this mean we should think proactively? Yes.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only provinces that have not banned sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, according to the Non-Smokers Rights Association.
Les Hagen of the group Action on Smoking and Health said what happened in Lethbridge is another reason why e-cigarettes must be regulated federally and provincially. By contrast, Jesse Kline of the National Post has told us, “Don’t believe the fear campaign — e-cigarettes can save millions of lives.”
It is time for federal leadership. We need rules that meet the needs of consumer protection and business owners, and balance health concerns for children with harm reduction for adults. According to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, “Health Canada is actively reviewing health and safety data and scientific studies on vaping products, including e-cigarettes.” She noted a report will be issued reasonably soon.
It will be a tricky task, especially with the marijuana file looming large.
Lucas Richert teaches the history of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs at the University of Saskatchewan.