Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Canada

Package size matters

Download (PDF, 27KB)

Canadian health groups respond to Philip Morris International’s $1 billion research fund

Download (PDF, 47KB)

Big tobacco bullies the global south. Trade deals are their biggest weapon

The industry has a long history of using trade to force their products into new markets. This has led to at least a 5% increase in cigarette deaths

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/17/big-tobacco-trade-deals-new-markets-bat

Cigarette packets often carry the warning to “protect children: don’t make them breathe your smoke”. In 2014, the Kenyan government attempted to do just that – banning the sale of single cigarettes, banning smoking in vehicles with a child and keeping the tobacco industry out of initiatives aimed at children and young people.

But as the Guardian reported last week, British American Tobacco, in an effort to keep Kenyans breathing their smoke, fought the regulations on the grounds that they “constitute an unjustifiable barrier to international trade”.

In fact, big tobacco has a long history of using trade and investment rules to force their products on markets in the global south and attack laws and threaten lawmakers that attempt to control tobacco use.

Back in the 1980s, as cigarette consumption fell off in North America and western Europe, US trade officials worked aggressively to grant American companies access to markets in Asia, demanding not only the right to sell their products, but also the right to advertise, sponsor sports events and run free promotions. Smoking rates surged.

In the 1990s, World Trade Organisation agreements led to a liberalisation of the international tobacco trade, with countries reducing import tariffs on tobacco products. The impact, according to a joint study of the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, was a 5% increase in global cigarette consumption and accompanying mortality rates.

Big tobacco’s lawyers were quick to discover the value of “next generation” trade agreements. In the 1990s, Canada dropped a plain packaging initiative after US manufacturers threatened a suit using the first next-gen trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). A few years later, Philip Morris threatened Canada again after it prohibited terms such as “light” and “mild” cigarettes. Philip Morris argued it would be owed millions in compensation for damage to its brand identity.

Philip Morris was able to credibly wield this threat because of the extraordinary powers that Nafta grants international corporations: the right to sue governments in private tribunals over regulations that affect their profits.

A toxic combination of far-reaching and poorly defined “rights” for investors, eye-watering legal costs, and tribunals composed of corporate lawyers with the power to set limitless awards against governments makes investment arbitration and the modern “trade” agreement a formidable weapon to intimidate regulators.

And what big tobacco learned in the global north it has been replicating in the global south, where threats carry greater force against poorer countries that may lack the resources to see down a legal challenge.

In 2010, Philip Morris launched a $25m claim against Uruguay after it introduced graphic warnings on cigarette packs. Though Uruguay successfully defended the measure, it still faced millions in legal costs. And Philip Morris effectively won, as Costa Rica and Paraguay held off introducing similar measures.

Such are the fears around big tobacco’s aggressive use of trade and investment rules that the US-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal featured a carve-out excluding big tobacco from investment protections – an explicit admission of the problem.

But this does not go far enough. The important thing to realise is that the problem goes beyond big tobacco. Big oil, big pharma and big mining follow the same playbook, launching investment arbitration cases to defend their business models from governments that would regulate to protect public health, the local environment or the climate.

Rather than target individual companies or sectors, we must push our governments to reform trade and investment rules that grant such extraordinary powers to corporations. That means removing special investor rights and investment courts from trade agreements. It means removing limits on the freedom of governments to protect public health, labour and human rights and the environment.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, served as deputy in a Reagan administration that pressured countries to open their tobacco markets to US exporters in the 1980s.

Vice-President Mike Pence’s record includes opposing smoking regulation, taking huge campaign donations from big tobacco, and denying the causal link between smoking and lung cancer. The EU commission, meanwhile, has been criticized for its meetings with big tobacco while it was negotiating EU-US trade talks.

The good news is that from Brazil to India to Ecuador, countries are stepping away from outdated trade and investment rules. In the UK, the Labour party manifesto opposes parallel courts for multinationals and proposes to review the UK’s investment treaties.

But until we scrap the powers that we grant big tobacco and others to frustrate and bypass our laws, efforts around the world to protect public health will continue to go up in smoke.

E-cigarette fluid poisonings on rise in Maritimes, says expert

IWK Regional Poison Centre received 34 calls related to concentrated nicotine last year, up from one in 2013

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/nicotine-poison-e-cigarette-increase-new-brunswick-1.4141007

The number of poisoning incidents related to the concentrated nicotine cartridges used for electronic cigarettes is increasing, according to the clinical leader of a poison control centre in the Maritimes.

“It’s definitely on the rise as they become more available to the public,” said Laurie Mosher, of the IWK’s Regional Poison Centre in Halifax, which takes calls from health-care professionals in New Brunswick and from citizens in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

The first call Mosher tracked was in 2013. In 2014, the number jumped to 14, then 21 in 2015, and 34 in 2016, she said.

The incidents involve people of all ages, but children were involved in 12 of last year’s calls, or 35 per cent, said Mosher. That’s up from three calls, or 21 per cent, in 2014.

“As a product becomes more available and more people are using it, and especially people with small children or teenagers in the house, it is likely to go up,” she said.

On Monday, a nine-year-old girl in Fredericton was taken to hospital after drinking an e-cigarette fluid called Unicorn Milk and suffering nausea, chest cramps and dizziness.

The Grade 5 student, who was diagnosed with nicotine poisoning, discovered the vial of concentrated nicotine with her friends on their school playground at É​cole des Bâtisseurs. They all tasted drops from the fluid, which is used for electronic vaping of cigarettes.

The girl’s mother, Lea L’Hoir, said the children were tempted to try the strawberry-flavoured fluid because it smelled good, and its container was decorated with a brightly coloured image of a unicorn.

National total not tracked

The number of such incidents across Canada is unclear. There is no central data collection centre for poisonings, said Mosher.

There are five poison centres across the country that serve all of the provinces, except New Brunswick and Newfoundland, which are covered by 811 and Tele-Care.

New Brunswick’s 811 line has received only one call regarding liquid nicotine poisoning in the past two years, according to the Department of Health.

The call was in November 2016, said department spokesperson Geneviève Mallet-Chiasson.

Mosher worries the numbers will continue to grow. “I think it definitely has potential for concern. So I don’t think we’re making too much of it.”

Even small amounts problematic

The symptoms experienced depend on exposure, said Mosher, who is also a registered nurse. Just a drop or two can lead to nausea or vomiting. It can also be very irritating if the substance gets into the eyes, she said.

“Larger amounts can cause tremors, seizures, and then it can also go the other way and they can have drowsiness,” said Mosher.

“So certainly if a child ingested a mouthful it could be very toxic. We haven’t had any severe toxicity as of now in our centre, but there certainly is potential for that,” she said.

“It could be life-threatening, depending on how much they got a hold of.”

Label guidelines needed

Mosher contends part of the problem is a lack of labelling guidelines for the cartridges.

Health Canada doesn’t regulate the labelling of vape products, but the sale of the products to people 18 or under is banned.

Mosher said the nicotine comes in different concentrations and the labels are not clear. For example, a label might indicate 16 mg, but there’s a big difference between 16 mg per mL and 16 mg in the entire cartridge.

In addition, the packaging is appealing to young children and the flavours appeal to teenagers.

The lack of warning symbols and lack of child-resistant packaging is very concerning, said Mosher.

“I would treat it like any other poisonous product, it should be kept out of reach of children, it should be regulated,” she said. “And it should not be appealing to young children.”

Call for tougher regulations

Earlier this week, the Canadian Cancer Society called on the federal government to move quickly on tougher regulations surrounding the labelling of vaping products.

A federal bill that would regulate the manufacture, sale and labelling of vaping products awaits approval in the Senate.

The bill would also give Health Canada the regulatory authority to enforce policies on childproof caps and to restrict certain flavours that critics say are aimed at a younger market.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. reported in 2014 that the number of calls to poison centres involving e-cigarette liquids rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. Almost 52 per cent of the calls involved children under the age of five.

The first four months of this year, poison centres in the U.S. reported 795 calls about exposure to the liquids.

If a child accidentally ingests the fluid, Mosher recommends calling a poison centre or 911​.

ACT Welcomes Tobacco Tax Hike In Federal Budget

The Alliance for the Control of Tobacco welcomes a hike in the federal tobacco tax announced this week by the Trudeau government.

http://vocm.com/news/act-welcomes-tobacco-tax-hike-in-federal-budget/

Executive Director Kevin Coady says they welcome anything to discourage smoking.

He says the surtax the tobacco manufacturer was paying has been removed, and the consumer tax increased, but it should discourage people from picking up the habit, or force them to cut back.

Statistics Canada earlier this week released numbers showing that this province has the highest rate of tobacco use in the country at 24.4 per cent, and marked increase from the previous survey.

Smoking rate continues to decline, survey shows

The latest Canadian Community Health Survey shows a 0.4 percentage point annual decline in the smoking rate and a nearly nine per cent drop since 2000-2001, the Canadian Press reported.

http://www.tobaccojournal.com/Smoking_rate_continues_to_decline_survey_shows.54156.0.html

Some 17.7 per cent of the population 12 years and older smoke daily or occasionally in 2015, compared with 18.1 per cent the year before, the news agency said. The rate was 26 per cent in 2000-2001. About 5.3 people smoke, of which about 3.8 million are daily smokers, Canadian Press said. Male smokers at 20.4 per cent represented a larger group than females at 15 per cent of the population in the latest survey.

Letter: Government must stop brand expropriation

While the federal government moves ahead with the legalization of marijuana, it continues to seek stricter tobacco industry regulation by banning menthol cigarettes and introducing plain packaging. These tobacco regulations are an easy political win meant to generate headlines and appease a vocal, well-funded tobacco control lobby, but do nothing to further reduce smoking rates.

http://www.thetelegram.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2017/2/25/letter–government-must-stop-brand-expropriation.html

Meanwhile, millions of Canadians purchase marijuana. In fact, most surveys show marijuana use higher than smoking. According to Health Canada’s own data, the youth usage rate for marijuana is almost six times that of tobacco, which is remarkable since marijuana is presently illegal. This is interesting since as an illegal product, marijuana is already effectively sold in a plain pack.

The federal government’s stated objective with marijuana legalization is to get people to switch over from the illegal and unregulated market to the regulated market. The government’s task force on marijuana legalization recommended plain packaging for that product.

Licensed producers of marijuana are now arguing that branding and marketing are necessary to attract consumers from the black market to the legal industry and cite the liquor sector as an example to follow. Branding justifies why it makes sense for consumers to go through the legal system instead of going to somebody they know in the neighbourhood.

The tobacco industry also needs brands to differentiate its products from illegal traffickers. It makes no sense to allow marijuana producers to display their brands to bring consumers through legal channels while taking away branding from the tobacco industry. The only result is sending consumers to the illegal market.

The unlawful production, distribution and sale of cigarettes in Canada has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, with illicit products making up more than 20 per cent of tobacco products. This is creating challenges for public health officials, law enforcement, tax authorities, policy makers and the public. Governments suffer significant revenue shortfalls in tobacco taxes. Efforts on the part of government and other organizations to protect the health of Canadians of all ages are undermined.

Small business owners are losing sales.

Plain and standardized packaging will lead to an increase in Canada’s already rampant illicit tobacco and thereby actually undermine public health objectives.

Unsurprisingly, evidence from Australia shows plain packaging has not achieved any of its stated objectives. Canada will be no different.

Nobody disagrees with the virtues of regulating tobacco and yes, even the tobacco industry believes young people should not smoke. But there are proven means to ensure that young people do not smoke, such as education programs and interventions targeted at at-risk populations. Yet, the government continues to concede to a small but vocal group of anti-tobacco lobbyists who are more anti-industry than pro-health.

With products already hidden from view in stores and 75 per cent of the pack covered with health warnings, nobody starts smoking because of the pack. Plain packaging will only make it easier for counterfeit tobacco manufacturers to copy legitimate products.

No other industry would accept this requirement, as the lobbying from marijuana producers now makes clear. However, all industries should be fearful of this abuse of government power. In the U.K., which passed tobacco plain packaging legislation in 2015, there is a growing chorus of health groups and academics calling for alcohol to suffer the same fate. While it may be tobacco and marijuana facing plain packaging in Canada today, it will be another industry shortly thereafter.

Companies making a legal product have a right to their brands and those need to be protected to ensure consumers have the confidence in the source and quality of the product.

Eric Gagnon, head of external affairs
Imperial Tobacco Canada
Montreal

Health Minister’s call to raise legal smoking age to 21 receives cloudy reviews

http://cfjctoday.com/article/556545/bc-health-ministers-call-raise-minimum-smoking-age-21-conversation-starter

It’s the number-one preventable form of death in B.C.

“You look at cancer, heart disease, other vascular strokes, they’re all related to smoking,” said BC Health Minister Terry Lake.

Earlier this week Lake tweeted the idea of raising the minimum legal smoking age in B.C from 19 to 21.

According to Lake, Hawaii, California, and more than 120 jurisdictions in the United States have already made the move.

“In a study, they looked at one jurisdiction where they had raised the age verses surrounding jurisdictions where it was a younger age,” said Lake. “There was a 47% reduction in smoking in high school students in the jurisdiction that had raised the minimum smoking age to 21.”

The current legal age to buy cigarettes across Canada varies.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec’s legal age is 18.

The rest of the provinces are 19.

While B.C has the lowest smoking rate at 14%, Interior Health Smoking Reduction Coordinator Jeff Connors says raising the legal smoking age to 21 could lower that number even further.

“85% of people who smoke for life start before 19 years of age, so that’s highschool,” said Connors. “I think by sending the message you’re not allowed to, it puts an onus on staff and consumption agencies that tobaccos is a bigger problem. It’s not 19 it’s 21 now, that’s a big difference, so it will reduce the availability to it.”

Along with increasing cigarette buying age, Connors says Health Canada is toying with the idea of making health warning signs larger and even more visible on cigarette packs in an effort to get more people to butt out.

“Looking at plain packaging is another piece, just to reduce the sexiness of the drug,” added Connors.

The majority of the people CFJT-TV spoke to in downtown Kamloops Friday say raising the cigarette buying age won’t deter smokers.

“It’s a bad idea. I see 12-year-old kids smoking, kids are going to still do it,” said one man.

“I think it’s a great idea, anything you can do to deter smokers,” said one woman.

“I don’t think it’s necessary. If a teen wants to smoke, he’s going to smoke,” said another man.

The Health Minister says there’s still plenty to discuss before any changes are made to the smoking market.

“We don’t want to have unintended consequences,” added Lake. “The black market is always something you have to consider when you put in policies like this. It really is just a conversation starter.”

Youths More Likely to Combine E-cigarettes with Other Substances

Are youths more likely to combine e-cigarettes with other substances? A new study of Canadian high school students shows a correlation between e-cigarette use and other risky behaviors, including tobacco and marijuana smoking, binge drinking, and mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

http://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/youths-likely-combine-e-cigarettes-substances/

E-cigarette popularity has increased significantly amongst global youths since 2011. Recent data also shows a spike in e-cigarette use amongst high school students in Canada, with approximately 20% of students reporting having tried an e-cigarette. With vapor emerging as a supposedly healthier alternative to tobacco smoking, researchers and public health workers have voiced concerns regarding unknown long-term effects of e-cigarette vapor on individuals’ health, the risks of renormalizing smoking in popular culture, and the potential for e-cigarettes to become gateway substances. Evidence suggests that high school students may be more likely to combine e-cigarettes with other substances such as marijuana and alcohol, which pose health risks amongst youths.

A recent Journal of Adolescent Health (2016) review of year 3 (2014-2015) of the COMPASS study analyzed data from 39,837 Canadian high school students from Grade 9-12 to investigate the correlation between e-cigarette use and binge drinking, mixing energy drinks with alcohol, and smoking tobacco or marijuana. During the course of the COMPASS study, a student-level questionnaire, or Cq, was given to participants during class time in order to collect information regarding substance use within the last 30 days to 12 months. Any student who indicated that they had consistently used a substance within the last 30 days was classified as a current user (e.g. students who reported smoking cigarettes within 30 days prior to taking the questionnaire were categorized as current smokers).

Researchers retained all data for participants that provided full information on necessary variables for the study, such as age, ethnicity, and consistent responses regarding recent substance use. Using these criteria, 2323 respondents were excluded from this study. The remaining data was further divided into subgroups based on sex, ethnicity, and spending money, and placed within a logistic regression model to examine any potential associations between each student’s demographic and their substance use patterns.

Nearly 10% of participating students reported having used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. Comparatively, approximately 6% were current smokers, 15.97% were marijuana users, 13.69% consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol, and 16.20% reported occasional binge drinking. While marijuana use was more common among male participants, occasional binge drinking was found to be more prevalent among females. Evidence also showed a higher likelihood of e-cigarette users to use other substances as well (28.66% of e-cigarette users were current tobacco smokers, 53.15% were current marijuana users, 20.09% were occasional binge drinkers, and 41.08% reported mixing alcohol and energy drinks). Researchers found that while the co-occurrence of binge drinking and marijuana use among current e-cigarette users seemed common, e-cigarette users who exclusively only smoked tobacco (and did not binge drink or smoke marijuana) was determined to be rare.

Both current smokers and male students with more spending money were found to be more likely to use e-cigarettes. Similarly, students who reported other health-risky behaviors, such as binge drinking and marijuana use, were more likely to use e-cigarettes than non-drinkers or non-smokers. This data on current e-cigarette use demonstrates a 35% increase amongst the youth of Ontario and Alberta from the previous year of COMPASS data. Furthermore, substance use appears to act as a strong indicator of future e-cigarette use relative to age, sex, ethnicity, and available funds.

As the results of this study have shown, health-risky behaviors appear to have a strong correlation with increased likelihood of e-cigarette use (although there is a lower prevalence of e-cigarette use as smokers increase in age). These findings are useful in terms of public health program planning, as further research may enable prevention efforts to target younger demographics within the youth population who are at a higher risk for e-cigarette or other substance use.

Opinion: Raise age to legally buy tobacco to 25 years old

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/opinion-raise-age-to-legally-buy-tobacco-to-25

National non-smoking week will be observed the week of Jan. 17 with one of the stated goals being a smoke-free Canadian society. The toll of nicotine addiction continues to be significant. The annual death toll is staggering — about 6,000 British Columbians, about 40,000 Canadians and worldwide about six million. The Conference Board of Canada estimates the annual economic costs of smoking in Canada to be $11.4 billion.

Significant progress has been made in reducing the percentage of smokers, however, progress has stalled and has even reversed for 19 to 25 year olds. And yes, this is an addiction that targets our youth with 99 per cent of smokers starting to smoke before age 25, 90 per cent before age 19. Government regulations have assisted but more needs to be done.

Government should cease providing financial support to an industry that markets the glamour of smoking. In B.C. alone, the entertainment industry is provided with about $500 million in tax breaks while it continues to push the coolness of smoking to youth. Only entertainment that is free of smoking images should qualify for tax breaks.

Retailer compliance requires significant improvement. Health Canada reports that 28 per cent of minors buy tobacco directly from retailers. Fraser Health spends about $265,000 annually on compliance audits — clearly this is insufficient funding. However, why are health-care dollars spent on retailer compliance? Shouldn’t retailers, who profit from tobacco sales, pay for compliance audits? An annual retailer licence fee of $1,000 would generate about $6 million annually to fund increased compliance audits. Further, the government should implement a moratorium on new licences until retailers can demonstrate 100-per-cent compliance.

Many health consequences of tobacco aren’t well understood by the public. For example, research has found that nicotine primes the developing brain of youth for addiction to other illicit substances. A 2012 U.S. study found that 87.9 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds who had ever used cocaine had smoked cigarettes before using cocaine.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a Sept. 4, 2014, study, by Dr. Eric Kandel and Dr. Denise Kandel. They found that “nicotine acts as a gateway drug on the brain, and this effect is likely to occur whether the exposure is from smoking tobacco, passive tobacco smoke or e-cigarettes. More effective prevention programs need to be developed for all products that contain nicotine, especially those targeting young people. Our data suggests that effective interventions would not only prevent smoking and its negative health consequences, but also decrease the risk of progressing to illicit drug use and addiction.” Given the recent spike in drug-overdose deaths, protecting our youth from nicotine addiction has increased urgency.

So what is the medically appropriate age to legally buy tobacco if we want to achieve a smoke-free society? Quite simply it’s 25. The empirical evidence is clear, only one per cent of smokers start smoking after age 25. Why the dramatic drop-off at that age? Dr. Frances Jensen answers that question in her book, “The Teenage Brain” — the rational part of young brains isn’t fully developed until age 25 or so — a conclusion supported by other researchers. And for those minors who are unable to purchase directly from retailers, their source of tobacco are friends who are old enough to buy tobacco (and in most cases are under age 25).

The evidence is clear, the war on tobacco isn’t yet won.

Art Van Pelt is a former food-retailing executive and the founder of Susan’s Battle, a family advocacy group seeking government action to better protect youth from nicotine addiction. A teenage smoker, Susan smoked for 20 years. At the time of her lung-cancer diagnosis Susan had been smoke-free for 23 years. Susan passed away seven weeks after her initial diagnosis of Stage 4, non-small-cell lung cancer at age 58. Former smokers never reduce their risk of lung cancer to that of a never smoker.