Tuesday, 23 January 2018

With new nicotine products claimed to be less risky, why allow the sale of combustible cigarettes?

Getting the smoke out of cigarettes

2017 saw an acceleration in the move by Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco to rehabilitate their reputation and to re-invent their market.

For the first time in decades, the companies’ executives are not keeping a low profile in the media or staying out of tobacco control discussions. Instead, they have launched pro-active campaigns, including media events, speaking tours and pro-active lobbying for changes to tobacco laws.

Their message? Heated tobacco is a disruptive technology that should be used to drive down smoking rates. Their goal? Looser rules on how they can sell their new devices.

The industry wants relaxed regulation of new “reduced risk” products

Over the past year, both BAT and ITL have introduced electronic devices which produce an aerosol by heating tobacco sticks that resemble short cigarettes. In support of the claim that these are “reduced risk” products, the companies point to a number of studies which show lower levels of toxins in the aerosol compared with the smoke from conventional cigarettes.

For the moment these products lie in a kind of legal limbo in Canada – they are subject to the federal laws that apply to all tobacco products (like restrictions on advertising), but are not captured by the regulations which are more product-specific (like health warnings and bans on flavourings). They also reveal a vulnerability in Canada’s health laws. Unlike the United States, Australia, New Zealand and many other developed countries, there is no requirement for them to be approved by any government before they can be marketed in Canada. 

There is not even an appropriate tax category for heated tobacco products — they are currently taxed at the rate set for oral tobacco. This is set on a per-gram basis, which makes the tax less than half the tax for cigarettes on a per-stick basis.

The manufacturers of these new types of cigarettes are using private visits with policy-makers, news events and other means to encourage regulators that the health of Canadian smokers would benefit if even fewer rules and lower taxes were in place for these products.

A better option: stronger measures on the old “high risk” cigarettes. 

We agree with the companies that federal law should respond to these new products. We agree that the new technologies should prompt a review of tobacco laws. But instead of justifying relaxing the rules on how nicotine is marketed, we think these products justify strengthening restrictions on conventional cigarettes.

Now that the companies have shown that they can produce a a product they claim is a less harmful form of inhaling tobacco, we think they should be required to remove their more harmful products from the market.

It’s time to stop exempting tobacco manufacturers from consumer protection laws that ensure products are no more dangerous than necessary.
Canadian law makes it relatively easy to put such a phase-out in place. Tobacco companies must regularly test the levels of toxins produced by their cigarettes and report the findings to government. They have recently used the same tests to show that their newer cigarettes are less toxic (and have published the results). The results of the toxic emission reports on the heated tobacco products could become a performance standard for all heated or ignited tobacco products.

This would give the marketing edge that the companies claim they need to encourage smokers to switch to a less bad option.

It is a much more prudent approach than granting their request to be able to use the tools of modern advertising and marketing to promote these brands– tools we know they would use to grow the number of people who use tobacco or other forms of nicotine.

Parliament has an opportunity in S-5 to ensure that nicotine, like gasoline and paint, is regulated so that most harmful products are phased out when better options become technically feasible. Either by amending the bill in committee -- or rejecting it and sending it back for a 're-do', the House of Commons can bring tobacco law up to date with technology.