In the name of protecting children and youth, the bill mainly protects industry, and not children and youth.
Alberta is the last Canadian province to regulate vaping and now makes minimal proposals: restricting advertising and vaping locations and requiring vendors to demand identification from customers who look younger than 25 years. This bill bans sales to minors – something already done by the federal government.
What the Alberta government didn’t do, but should have done, was to make vaping products less dangerous by reducing their nicotine content and by banning their flavours.
If the Alberta government was serious about protecting child and youth health, then it would have reduced the maximum levels of nicotine from 60 mg/ml to 20 mg/ml, as Nova Scotia and the European Union have done, and as British Columbia proposes to do.
It would have banned all flavours but tobacco, as Nova Scotia has done.
Moreover, the Alberta government should have:
- raised the minimum vaping age to 21;
- licensed vendors;
- implemented strict enforcements, causing vendors to lose their license for unlawful sales;
- created health programs to help children and youth overcome their nicotine addictions.
In its present form, Bill 19 protects the vaping industry, giving it much of what it wanted. Almost all industry presenters to the government committee last fall opposed a cap on nicotine – including JUUL, which sells pods containing 59 mg/ml of nicotine. Imperial Tobacco and Imperial Brands – sellers of flavoured vaping products – and their industry associations all opposed banning flavours.
The industry will now be popping champagne: no Alberta nicotine cap, no flavour ban.
Big Tobacco is notorious for misrepresenting facts about nicotine and smoking. This industry actively worked to create a ‘scientific’ controversy about smoking’s harmfulness when there was none.
Similarly, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro told journalists, “The evidence is still being reviewed and our public health folks are going to continue to monitor the various ways there might be adverse effects on the health of adults.”
But we know that vaping is harmful. It’s harmful to the mouth, to the lungs and can lead to COPD. We know that high nicotine levels addict youth rapidly; and that flavours entice young people to vape and confuse them about whether vaping is safe.
There’s also little scientific evidence that vaping helps adults stop smoking.
Shandro said, “During the review, I did not meet with any lobbyists that were involved with this file.” Even so, according to the Alberta Lobby Registry, the United Conservative Party and its predecessor have received money from multiple tobacco and vaping industry sources.
When politicians leave office, some find well-paying tobacco and vaping-related work. Former Canadian Conservative cabinet minister Rona Ambrose recently joined JUUL’s board. Would annoying the tobacco and vaping industry be bad for our elected officials’ future prospects?
Putting the tobacco and vaping industry’s interests first is unlawful. Canada signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that states, “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”
The Alberta government is supposed to work for us, not for the tobacco and vaping industry, or for politicians’ future careers.
Canadians don’t want their children and youth to be addicted to nicotine. They have said so. And, frankly, with the low price of landlocked oil and the economic harms of COVID-19, our province can’t afford a new generation of nicotine addicts who will cost the health-care system billions of dollars before the Albertans suffocate, unable to breathe.
Bill 19 is a start. We call on all elected members of the Alberta legislature, please, to do the opposite of what the diabolical tobacco and vaping industry wants:
- to restrict nicotine concentrations to 20 mg/ml;
- to ban all vaping flavours but tobacco;
- to raise the minimum vaping age to 21;
- to license and strictly control vaping vendors;
- to create health programs to help children and youth overcome their nicotine addictions.
Alberta’s children and youth are counting on our elected provincial officials for protection. This could still be this Alberta government’s finest hour.
Juliet Guichon is associate professor at Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary.