Another incomprehensible ban

By Iro Cyr on May 28, 2009

It is beyond comprehension to see that Health Canada is calling for a ban on the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in this country.

This decision is totally counterproductive to the efforts of Health Canada, who have long been in the vanguard internationally in the reduction of tobacco consumption. While the results of Canada’s sustained efforts through educational campaigns have generally been positive in reducing smoking prevalence right up to and including the year 2004, the decreasing trend has halted and smoking rates in Canada have remained the same ever since draconian smoking bans were instituted in many provinces . As history has taught us, coercive methods have never yielded positive results. 

Apart from the public reacting negatively to coercion, another likely reason why the remaining citizens who smoke may be reluctant to quit their habit is the lack of realistic alternatives to the act of smoking itself. Public health authorities tend to see smoking as a function of addiction to nicotine, and pharmaceutical companies have cashed in on that perception by marketing various nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) devices. These products, in the form of variously flavored chewing gum in colorful packaging, or lozenges, patches, or even inhalers, are advertised extensively in all media. No doubt NRT sales are high and profitable, but the long term success rate of quitting smoking by use of NRT products as they are marketed now is a dismal 1.6% . 

Electronic cigarettes are seen by many as a more attractive alternative to the NRT products available from the pharmaceutical industry and a viable alternative to those who wish to continue profiting from the benefits of nicotine. The use of the e-cigarette simulates the physical acts and sensations characteristic of smoking, including holding a cigarette-shaped device, inhaling nicotine vapor from it, and exhaling propylene glycol vapor. This vapor is a relatively inert gas which is odorless and does not linger in the air around the e-smoker. There is no environmental smoke produced by e-cigarettes therefore there is no annoyance to by-standers.

The popularity of the e-cigarette has spread virally through means such as word of mouth and internet forums. Large numbers of people around the world claim that use of e-cigarettes has helped them quit or cut down on their smoking and that it provides a degree of comfort, satisfaction, and convenience to those who do not wish to give up nicotine intake for various reasons. 

In light of all of this, it is beyond disappointing to see that Health Canada is calling for a ban on the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes in this country. It is absurd that Health Canada would keep it legal to smoke tobacco and ban the marketing of e-cigarettes, which offer an effective alternative and we are not alone to feel this way. 

Contrary to conventional cigarettes emissions, E-cigarette vapor only contains two chemicals: nicotine and glycol propylene. Nicotine is generally accepted as relatively harmless by authorities, and is an approved legal substance. After all, NRT products, some of which are inhaled nicotine, are allowed to be freely marketed over the counter with no legal age for purchase and Health Canada has either authorized or is in the process of authorizing clinical trials of such nicotine products on pregnant women (5). Propylene glycol is approved as an additive for various foods, is used as a preservative substance to maintain moisture in products, and has been animal tested (including on simians, not just laboratory rats) as relatively harmless when inhaled. =

The electronic cigarette is in essence a nicotine delivery device in the same mould as pharmaceutical NRT products. What is it in the combination of nicotine and propylene glycol that has Health Canada thinking that e-cigarettes are more hazardous than tobacco and NRT products such as inhalers? Surely e-cigarettes, which are neither tobacco products nor pharmaceutical products, should be permitted to be marketed and distributed freely providing they are not advertized as therapeutic devices. 

Unable to comprehend what motivated Health Canada to ban e-cigarettes while keeping tobacco and pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy as well as the dangerous drug Chantix legal, I can only conclude that the only parties worthy of protection from Health Canada are the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries whose profits are threatened with the advent of this smart invention that had the potential of reestablishing harmony between smoking and non-smoking citizens and bringing much needed business back in our hospitality sector. 

Health Canada should rethink its e-cigarette policy immediately, in the interest of the people they represent as opposed to the financial interests of powerful corporate lobbies.


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