Banning flavours for adult smokers trying to quit tobacco is a huge mistake, one that could have deadly consequences
Earlier this month Ottawa submitted new regulations for vaping products to the Canada Gazette. It wants to ban all vape flavours with the exception of tobacco, mint and menthol.
The rationale behind the ban is that limiting flavours will curb youth access to vaping products. Vapes, of course, should never be in the hands of minors. Their main value is to offer adult smokers substantially reduced risk for consuming nicotine — a 95 per cent reduction according to Public Health England. That reality is why vaping works as a means to quit smoking, something which has been reaffirmed by many peer-reviewed articles. A 2017 study from the University of California using U.S. Census data found that vaping had contributed to a “significant” increase in smoking cessation and as a result it recommended positive public health communications on vaping.
Other national public health agencies have seen the value of vaping as a smoking cessation tool and shifted their approach. Ireland, for example, has started actively promoting vape products to adult smokers trying to quit, while New Zealand has launched an interactive online tool explaining the value of switching to vaping from smoking.
Our federal government, however, is ignoring what is working abroad and is rejecting its usual governing principle of harm reduction. Curbing youth access to vape products is very important but banning flavours for adult smokers trying to quit tobacco is a huge mistake, one that could have deadly consequences. Approximately 1.5 million Canadians use vape products, most of them smokers trying to quit. Research on consumer purchasing patterns shows that 650,000 of those vape users currently rely on flavours that would be prohibited if the ban goes through.
If Ottawa does gets its ban, many of those targeted by it are likely to return to smoking, and that is something no one should be celebrating. This isn’t just a hypothesis on what may happen; it’s what has happened in jurisdictions that have sought to limit access to flavours.
South of the border, a nationally representative longitudinal study of over 17,000 Americans showed that adults who used flavoured vaping products were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking cigarettes when compared to vapers who consumed tobacco-flavoured vaping products. Its authors, Abigail S. Friedman and SiQing Xu, both health policy researchers at Yale University, concluded that: “Although proponents of flavour bans have claimed that tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes are adequate to help individuals who smoke, these results call for evidence to support that claim before it is acted on.”
San Francisco provides yet another example where banning flavoured vaping products directly correlated with a spike in smoking rates. In a single-authored study, Abigail S. Friedman concluded that the ban on flavoured products doubled the odds that those under the legal age of purchase had smoked recently. The ban, passed to curb youth access to vaping, ultimately ended up shifting minors to cigarettes, which is a public health failure by any measure.
In fact, the economic evaluation of the ban, in the federal government’s own submission, openly admits that a ban on flavours will cause a return to smoking: “They (vapers) would choose to purchase more cigarettes, hence offsetting the loss” retailers will incur as a result of eliminating flavoured vape products.
The link between vaping flavours and quitting smoking is intuitive. Smokers trying to quit are more likely to enjoy a flavoured vape product than something that tastes exactly like the product they are desperately trying to quit using. Regulators here in Canada must know that this is exactly what will happen and yet are pushing onward regardless.
The federal Liberals have steadfastly, even stubbornly, championed harm reduction when it comes to illicit drugs — which makes their stance on vaping all the more incomprehensible. Their approach to illicit substances is the right approach given that it ultimately saves lives, and they should let those same harm reduction principles guide vaping policy. In fact, harm reduction should guide all drug policy, whether those drugs are legal or not.
Originally published here.