For every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead.
Alberta’s new vaping regulations are a huge step backwards for harm reduction, and ultimately public health. This week, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that Alberta – in an attempt to curb youth vaping – will move to regulate vaping in the same manner as cigarettes, which includes age restrictions, restrictions on where consumers can vape, where advertising can be displayed, and possibly a ban on flavours.
It should be clearly said that vaping products are harm reduction tools for adult smokers, and that curbing youth access is a noble and worthy cause. That said, beyond the age restriction, Alberta’s approach to vaping is bad public policy.
First off, the provincial government has now shown that it is incapable of regulating based on the risk associated with a product. We know from credible public health agencies like Public Health England that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. Because of that, vaping should be regulated in a different manner, one that recognizes the continuum of risk. Regulating vaping like smoking is problematic because it sends the wrong signal to adult smokers, primarily that vaping and smoking are of equivalent harm. By sending this false message to consumers, it can be expected that fewer smokers will make the switch to vaping, which is a net negative for public health, society at large, and more importantly, adults who are trying to quit cigarettes or consume nicotine in a less harmful way.
Take in store displays for example. In Alberta, cigarettes are purchased (mostly) at convenience stores where they are behind a screen so that products cannot be seen. Unfortunately, Alberta’s new regulations apply that same restriction to vaping products. Allowing for modest forms of in-store display will help prompt and inform adult smokers that reduced risk products exist, and will increase the likelihood of them making the switch. In order to encourage smokers to make the switch they have to know that these products exist, and the best way for them to acquire that information is at the point of sale where they traditionally purchase cigarettes. By placing all vaping products out of view, they will largely be out of mind for the 15.8 per cent of Albertans who currently smoke.
The same goes for the prospect of a flavour ban, which Alberta is now paving the way for with its new regulations. A ban on flavours, while done under the banner of curbing youth access and use, would hurt adult ex-smokers the most. Harm reduction research on the usage patterns of adult vapers – who were former smokers – shows that the availability of flavours is a significant factor in their decision to switch from smoking to vaping. In evaluating the purchases of over 20,000 American adults who vape, researchersconcluded that prohibiting non-tobacco flavoured vapes would significantly discourage smokers from switching.
While these arguments may seem like hypotheticals to some, figures from the UK have shown us in real time, the impact a harm reduction approach has on smoking cessation. The United Kingdom is arguably the leader in embracing vaping as a harm reduction tool and as a means to steer adults away from smoking. So much so that over1.5 million people in the UK have completely switched from smoking to vaping. In addition to that, 1.3 million people in the UK used vaping as a means to quit smoking, and no longer vape or smoke. Because of the UK’s harm reduction approach, 2.8 million British have switched away from cigarettes, or quit altogether.
These regulations are further compounded by Alberta’s misguided 20 per cent vape tax, which further discourages smokers from switching. Supporters of the tax will argue that an increase in the price of vape devices will reduce the amount of people who vape. This is true, however it also has the consequence of increasing the amount of people who smoke cigarettes. Research from theNational Bureau of Economic Research, evaluating 35,000 retailers, showed that every 10 per cent increase in vaping price resulted in a 11 per cent increase in cigarette purchases. In terms of product sales, this means that for every vape pod not purchased, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes were purchased instead. This is exactly the opposite of what public health officials should be encouraging via public policy.
While youth vaping is a problem – and one that needs to be addressed – it is important that the government doesn’t sacrifice adult smokers trying to switch or quit in the process. Regulating vaping like cigarettes ultimately means that more Albertans will continue to smoke, which certainly isn’t anything worth celebrating.
The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.
The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org