Follow Australia’s lead on vaping
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When the smoke — or, if you’d rather, vapour — clears, there will be much for Canada to learn from Australia’s latest move to stem the tide of nicotine addiction among its youth population.
The Australian government last week announced it will impose an outright ban on recreational vaping products in an effort to control what officials there describe as an alarming rise in teenage vaping. The government will also significantly tighten other regulations related to the importation, distribution and use of e-cigarettes and other vaping-related products.
“Vapes” containing nicotine have long been promoted by the tobacco industry as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and even a transitional step in helping smokers quit. Such devices already require a prescription in Australia, but inadequate industry regulation means young people have easy access to vaping products, including those that contain nicotine.
“Just like they did with smoking … ‘Big Tobacco’ has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts,” Australian Minister of Health Mark Butler said while announcing the vaping ban.
“We have been duped.”
Research suggests one in six Australians aged 14 to 17, and one in four aged 18 to 24, have used vaping products — numbers that seem to confirm vaping’s disproportionate impact on the young.
“Only one in 70 people my age has vaped,” added Mr. Butler, who’s 52.
This aggressive stance by Australia’s federal government — described by some as the toughest crackdown on the tobacco industry in more than a decade — stands in stark contrast to the manner in which Canada has sought to address the issue of vaping’s impact on the youth population.
Health advocates have accused Canada’s government of dragging its feet on vaping regulation, after it failed to follow through on promises made in June 2021 regarding a “rapid increase in youth vaping in Canada.”
According to the 2019 Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth, 13.2 per cent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 reported having vaped in the previous 30 days. In the 15-to-17 age group, 21.3 per cent had vaped, and more than one-quarter of those users vaped daily or nearly every day.
Changes were proposed to the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, most notably to regulate the sale of vapes with “desirable” flavours such as cotton candy and cereal milk, which are presumed to attract young users. But two years later, Health Canada has failed to impose such restrictions and the federal government appears to have left the issue of regulating vape flavours for the provinces and the industry to sort out.
“The federal government has frankly been missing in action, which is inexplicable,” said smoking-cessation expert Dr. Andrew Pipe.
The vaping industry, for its part, has diversified its roster of products in an apparent effort to make vaping more attractive and accessible for young users. Fruit flavours abound, and vapour can now be delivered via disposable and easily concealable “vape pens” that do not require cartridges or refills.
In the absence of federal regulations, several provinces and territories — including Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories — have banned the sale of flavoured vape products in an effort to discourage youth usage.
That’s not good enough. The federal government should — indeed, must — take decisive action in response to the desperate efforts of an industry whose very survival depends on cultivating new generations of addicts.
Australia’s outright ban will face challenges; whether it will survive remains to be seen. But surely, decisive action is preferable to the asleep-at-the-wheel approach favoured by Canada’s so-called leaders.
» Winnipeg Free Press