Third reading of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as amendedPublished on 18 May 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Jane Cordy
Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I was not able to attend the Social Affairs Committee hearings when they dealt with Bill S-5 because the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, meets at the same time. I did, however, take the time to read all the transcripts of the meetings. I want to thank the committee members for the excellent questions posed to the witnesses. I believe that your work, your comments and your amendments have made Bill S-5 better legislation.
As stated by the health minister at the committee hearings, Bill S-5 is promoted as a balanced piece of legislation that is aimed at protecting youth from inducement to nicotine addiction and tobacco use, while allowing adults to legally access vaping products as a less harmful alternative to tobacco. The bill will also lay the ground work to support the government’s efforts to implement plain packaging.
We all know how deadly smoking tobacco can be and we are all too familiar with the statistics. In 2015, 15 per cent of Canadians were regular smokers — that’s nearly 4.5 million Canadians. In addition to that, 115,000 more Canadians became regular smokers in 2015. Governments have worked hard to reduce smoking rates in Canada and to discourage young people from starting to smoke. Despite these efforts, nearly 37,000 — I repeat, 37,000 — Canadians died from tobacco-related illnesses in 2015.
The Minister of Health has set an ambitious goal of lowering the percentage of smokers to under 5 per cent by 2035. Bill S-5, as stated by the minister, is a key element in the federal government’s broader tobacco control agenda.
Honourable senators, I am a strong advocate for a smoke-free Canada. I believe we must make every effort to keep tobacco products out of the hands of our children and young people. Bill S-5 continues the efforts to deter tobacco use. Bill S-5 will also bring in controls to regulate the growing vaping industry.
The vaping industry is still relatively new. Vaping products have been available in Canada for about 10 years. I must admit that I was aware of vaping, but I wasn’t too familiar with how vaping products work and how they are sold until I started researching vaping for this bill. I quickly learned that vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the water vapour produced by an electric device called a vaporizer, which is also known as an e-cigarette.
Over the last 10 years, vape shops have opened up across the country and they offer a wide variety of e-vaporizer devices and e-liquids. According to numbers presented at committee by the Canadian Vaping Association, there are over 800 retail and manufacturing facilities in Canada, employing over 5,000 Canadians and generating over $350 million in revenue.
The e-liquids offered for sale come in hundreds of flavours and can have nicotine added in varying quantities. The customer can choose the level of nicotine they want in their vapour and the store mixes it in for them on the spot. As vaping is tobacco free but can still contain nicotine, the industry has been promoting e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco. However, because of the availability of so many flavours, many of which could appeal to young people, it is important that this bill restricts access of vaping products to adults.
Currently, the vaping industry is self-regulated and is operating in the absence of federal regulations. Adherence to the self-regulations by those agents operating in the industry is done on a voluntary basis. As Daniel David, Chairman of the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada, stated at the committee:
ECTA is a self regulatory organization for the vapour products industry, active since 2011. During this time, we have developed and implemented regulations and compliance standards that respond directly to consumer needs, evolving technology and trends and the ever growing body of scientific research on vaping and harm reduction. Our members voluntarily submit to ECTA requirements and uphold the highest standards in retail, manufacture and wholesale. We embrace the critical need for an appropriately regulated vapour product industry.
I commend the vaping industry for recognizing the need for regulation and taking the initiative to develop a program in the absence of federal regulations, but I believe it is time for this legislation and I believe there is a need for mandatory federal regulations to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
As the Health Minister stated in committee:
The prevalence of a number of products, including in particular vaping products and their use, is growing rapidly. These are less harmful than tobacco products and they have the potential to bring about public health benefits if they reduce tobacco related death and disease. However, they also have the potential to bring about harms if they entice youth and non-users of tobacco to develop a nicotine addiction or lead to tobacco use.
If Bill S-5 is to be fair and balanced piece of legislation that is aimed at protecting youth from inducement to nicotine addiction and tobacco use as the government is proposing, it should, as the Canadian Vaping Association stated, “ensure that maximum benefits are realized while minimizing potential harms.”
A fine balance has to be struck to ensure that adults are able to legally access these products, particularly as a tobacco cessation alternative. At the same time, promotion of the products will also be regulated so that Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are not enticed to take up vaping. The amended legislation provides the flexibility for medical practitioners to promote these devices as a tobacco cessation method for those who are looking for help to quit smoking.
The Canadian Lung Association acknowledged the challenge of finding this balance when appearing at committee during study of this bill. Amy Henderson, Public Policy Manager with the Canadian Lung Association, testified:
We understand that there are advantages of electronic cigarettes or vaping products, mainly getting people off smoking. However, e-cigarettes are less harmful but not harmless. This is especially important for lung disease.
We recognize that the balance in this bill is between preventing youth from picking up vaporized products and allowing adults who smoke to use them. But we also really want to make sure that young people don’t start using vaporized products. People who have already quit smoking don’t go to vaporized products and people who have never smoked go to vaporized products.
From all the evidence presented at committee and during debate on this bill in the Senate, it is clear that vaping seems to be a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. However, caution must be exercised when describing vaping as “safe” or “healthier” because, as the Canadian Lung Association rightfully points out, vaping may be less harmful but vaping is indeed not harmless.
The reality is that it is impossible to know the long-term effects of vaping or the effects of inhaling vapour and particularly vapour containing nicotine at this point in time. When asked about this at committee, John Britton, Director of the UK Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, testified:
Those things I expect to cause lung damage in the long term.
We would expect the spectrum of damage to include a similar spectrum of lung disease to existing smoking, but at a much lower level of risk. So there will, in my opinion, over the next 50 years, be a handful of cases of lung cancer caused by vaping. But that has to be set aside the likelihood of tens of thousands of cases of lung cancer caused by smoking.
He went on to say that we won’t know the full effects of vaping or how safe it is or isn’t until two or three decades have gone by.
There were concerns expressed that the perception of vaping being a “safe” alternative to smoking tobacco will entice not just youth but any Canadian to start vaping and then the potential is there for them to move on to tobacco use. Senator Seidman raised this important point in committee and asked if e-cigarettes would re-normalize smoking and undermine decades of progress made by anti-smoking campaigns. We already know that 26 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 in Canada have tried e-cigarettes.
It is important to acknowledge the potential that vaping products have to drastically lower the prevalence of a wide range of health risks associated with tobacco use. If more tobacco users switched to vaping, it can be viewed as positive because, as smokers will tell you, it is very difficult to quit this habit.
Dr. Peter Selby, a Clinician Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, testified at committee and stated:
. . . a sobering fact from our research is that despite the most motivated patient and the most motivated person making an attempt to quit, most of them will go back to smoking within three to six months. That is the reason why we are very interested in looking at ways in which people can reduce the harm from tobacco use, especially because most of the people, as you know, die from the smoke and not the nicotine.
Evidence shows that vaping is most likely a less hazardous alternative to smoking tobacco. An e-cigarette is able to provide the nicotine a smoker is addicted to but eliminates the tobacco smoke which contains the toxins that can lead to serious health issues.
Finding and maintaining the right balance in Bill S-5 was not an easy task. I am reassured that the amended bill mandates the Minister of Health to undertake a review of the provisions and operation of the legislation three years after Royal Assent and every two years after that. A report on the review must be tabled in each House of Parliament no later than one year after the day on which the review is undertaken. I believe this clause is very important in order to assess and ensure that the legislation is achieving and maintaining the balance for which it strives. It is important to evaluate a bill such as Bill S-5 regularly so that changes can be made based on the data that is gathered.
I have spoken about the vaping aspects of Bill S-5 and I would like to take a few moments now to talk about the other major feature of this bill. Bill S-5 will establish the foundations for the introduction of mandatory standardized and plain packaging requirements for tobacco products.
Much has been said by Canada’s tobacco manufacturers against instituting the plain and standardized packaging policies the federal government is proposing. However, studies from around the world where these policies were put in place show that these initiatives related to plain packaging have had success.
David Hammond, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo, who conducts research on tobacco use and e-cigarettes, including how products are designed, marked and used by consumers, said this in his testimony before the committee:
It is a fact that Australia experienced the largest ever decline in smoking prevalence after plain packaging was implemented. The most extensive analysis to date determined that after adjusting for tax increases and other measures that were implemented over the same time, plain packaging resulted in more than 100,000 fewer Australian smokers. If plain packaging were to have the same impact in Canada, that would translate to 190,000 fewer smokers. The scientific evidence on plain packaging includes close to 100 published scientific studies, which are consistent with the Australian data.
He went on to say:
The evidence is clear: cigarettes in plain packaging are less appealing to try. They increase perceptions of risk and they enhance the impact of health warnings. That’s not only the opinion of the scientific community; it’s also been established in legal rulings from the British High Court and the High Court of Australia.
As the Health Minister pointed out, tobacco packaging is one of the few remaining channels available to the tobacco industry for the promotion of their products. Ultimately, the federal government’s goal is to restrict any type of promotion for tobacco products. Currently there are strict regulations when it comes to tobacco packaging and health warnings. Tobacco companies, however, have found ways around these restrictions to continue to promote their products on the packaging. Standardized plain packaging will close this avenue of promotion.
Tobacco industry representatives have raised the alarm that plain packaging of tobacco will fuel the counterfeit and contraband tobacco industry. The Health Minister refuted this in her appearance at the committee, citing that there was no evidence to support that claim. Mr. Hammond, of the University of Waterloo, said:
I would like to address some misinformation presented to this committee about plain packaging and illicit tobacco. There is a range of different information sources on illicit tobacco in Australia, including data from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Services. These sources do not indicate any increase in illicit tobacco from plain packaging. In fact, there is only one source that suggests that plain packaging has increased illicit tobacco, and that’s the tobacco companies.
Honourable senators, there is no refuting that contraband tobacco remains an important issue in Canada. However, there is no data that the standardized and plain packaging elements in this bill would increase contraband tobacco in Canada. Our greatest weapon against contraband tobacco is by lowering demand for tobacco products across Canada. Lowering the smoking rates in Canada and eliminating the contraband tobacco trade requires a multi-faceted and multi-pronged approach, including law enforcement and border restrictions. Keeping the plain packaging elements in this bill goes to the core of what the government is trying to achieve with this legislation, and that is to reduce the number of Canadians who smoke.
Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Petitclerc for sponsoring Bill S-5 and for her hard work in guiding this legislation through the Senate. I would also like to thank Senator Seidman, who is the official critic of the bill, and who worked to make Bill S-5 better.
I am always supportive of legislative efforts of any government to reduce smoking rates in Canada, whether it is legislation restricting flavoured tobacco, which appeals to young people, or the legislation curbing the illegal tobacco industry. We have to continue our efforts to reduce smoking. Many Canadians are dying needlessly every year because of lung disease and cancers caused by smoking.
I also want to thank the committee members again for the excellent discussions on Bill S-5 during committee study. I believe that you have made Bill S-5 better legislation. I also believe the amendments help Bill S-5 better achieve the balance the Minister of Health is striving for in this legislation.
I support Bill S-5 and the government’s efforts to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping products and the efforts to establish the groundwork to introduce mandatory plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products.