Friday 22 June 2018

Plain and standardized tobacco products and packaging move closer to reality in Canada

Twenty-four years ago, in the spring of 1994, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recommended that the government adopt plain packaging for cigarettes.  The government did not do so, at least not in 1994.  Since then, many countries have adopted plain packaging.  Australia led the way followed by France and the United Kingdom.  Twenty-one other countries will soon implement plain packaging or have announced their intentions to do so.

Now, 24 years after first studying the matter, the Canadian government is poised to leapfrog ahead with its proposal for what would be the toughest and most effective regulations for plain and standardized tobacco products and packaging in the world.  According to draft regulations published today in Part I of the Canada Gazette, (the tobacco regulatory proposal appears on pages 2574 to 2656)  cigarette packages would not only be a plain brownish-green, they would also be standardized to the slide-and-shell format of old.  Very large warnings would continue to appear on the packages.  Even the cigarettes would be standardized.   Only regular and king size would be allowed.  Gone would be gimmicky cigarettes like slims, superslims and luxury length.  Plain packaging requirements would extend to all tobacco products, not just cigarettes, with adaptations tailored to the nature of each product.

These are strong measures.  To stand up to tobacco industry opposition which will surely come, strong evidence is required.  And the government have provided strong evidence, in spades. The Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement (RIAS) accompanying the draft regulations provides convincing evidence to support these proposals.  The RIAS has no fewer than 130 references.  It draws on the experience of other countries, published scientific evidence from Canada and other countries, and, most deliciously of all, tobacco industry market research documents made public through court proceedings in Quebec and elsewhere. When market researchers many years ago recommended to companies how to make packages and products more attractive to consumers, their reports are now revived and become strong evidence to the government for how to make such products and packages less attractive by doing the opposite of what was once recommended to tobacco companies.

Here is just one example of how this works:

In 1991,  Canadian tobacco company RJR-Macdonald (now JTI-Macdonald) commissioned the market research firm Qualitative Science to report on how the package of their flagship brand
Export A might be re-designed to make it more appealing.  Among many other observations, this market research firm reported in 1991:

"Feelings of social rejection prompted some smokers to suggest that the ideal cigarette package design would make a contribution to alleviating their feelings of guilt." 

Now, in 2018, the words RJR-Macdonald bought and paid for in 1991 have come back to haunt them. They are being parroted back, this time in support of plain and standardized packaging.  On page 2585 of the June 23, Canada Gazette, Part I, the RIAS states:

"As well, tobacco industry documents indicate that the tobacco package can also be used to comfort smokers and ease or alleviate the feelings of guilt and social rejection in connection with their tobacco use."

This RIAS statement properly credits the 1991 Qualitative Science report as its source.  Throughout the RIAS, tobacco industry documents and third-party analyses of tobacco industry documents are cited as important parts of the evidence for the strong measures proposed to take away the sensory appeal of tobacco products and their packaging.

Instead of attractive colours, the background colour proposed for tobacco packages is Pantone colour 448C.  It looks like this:

Image result for pantone 448c

The Government is inviting public comment on these draft regulations between now and September 6, 2018.  Comments can be sent to

Plain and Standardized Packaging Division,
Tobacco Products Regulatory Office,
Tobacco Control Directorate,
Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch,
Health Canada, 150. Tunney’s Pasture Driveway,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

Monday 11 June 2018

See Vype Go!

The ink was barely dry on Bill S-5 before British American Tobacco had its e-cigarette Vype on the market to Canadians. The domain went live the week after Royal Assent was given to the new federal law which legalizes recreational nicotine products.

Although only the tank system (left) is currently
available in Canada, BAT is illustrating two other models
on its new GOVYPE.CA web-site
On-line sales 

BAT's e-cigarette portal does more than offer on-line sales in the provinces where door-to-door delivery is allowed (online sales are banned by law in Quebec and Nova Scotia). The web-site also provides a list of the convenience stores (Circle K/Macs Milk) and gas stations (PetroCanada) where they can be bought directly, and gives some advice on using the product. (As a service to other researchers who may not be able to access the Canadian site, the text from some of these pages is pasted below).

To see health warnings on,
the customer must scroll
down the page repeatedly

With small health warnings

The information on the web-site presents raises more profound concerns. The most notable aspect of the web-site is not what is visible on it, but what is nearly invisible. You have to scroll down several times to find the small print warning (circled above):
Vype products may be harmful to health and contain nicotine which is addictive. VYPE PRODUCTS ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR USE BY: persons who are not adults; persons who are under the legal age to purchase vaping products; persons who are allergic/sensitive to nicotine; pregnant or breast-feeding women; persons who have been advised to avoid using tobacco or nicotine products for medical reasons; persons with reduced physical, sensory, mental capabilities or lack of experience/knowledge unless they are under supervision or have been given instructions concerning the use of the product by a person responsible for their safety; and persons with an unstable heart condition, severe hypertension or diabetes. Keep Vype products out of reach of children.
Illustrations and specifications that appear on the web-site caution users about the "risk of fire, injury and damage" that could result from using a non-compatible charging device, but make no reference to any addiction or human health impact unrelated to device failure.

In-store displays (despite laws banning them)

Vype counter-displays, such as that shown below, are now prominent in the Circle K stores in our neighbourhood.

This may seem rather odd, given that the Smoke-Free Ontario Act clearly states: "No person shall, in any place where tobacco products, tobacco product accessories, vapour products or any prescribed products or substances are sold or offered for sale, display or permit the display of any of the following products, in any manner that would permit a consumer to view or handle the product before purchasing it."  

Vype counter displays at Circle K, รน
Wellington Street
Ottawa. June 11, 2018

Although neither the law nor the guidance document issued last year make any reference to a grace period for the display ban, the clerk at our local Circle K explained that the Ontario government had given a one-month exemption to the law before e-cigarettes would be stored behind shutters as cigarettes are by the end of June.

Voluntary package warnings (but proportional to harm?)

One advantages of the open displays at the retail store is the opportunity to look at the packaging of both nicotine-free and nicotine-containing e-liquids.
The warnings on nicotine-bearing and nicotine-free products are not the same. The nicotine free product carries a black-box warning "This product may be  harmful to your health" with the French version on the opposite side.

The nicotine-free version of the vype e-liquid had a larger text
warning on the package front than did either strength of the
nicotine-bearing version

The version with nicotine carries no black-framed warning.  On the front side there is the household chemical safety symbol for poison with the signal word "danger". On the back, in much smaller font, the following warning is printed: "This product may be harmful to health and contains nicotine which is addictive." 

The contrast between the visibility of the large-print nicotine-free warning (right) and the smaller text on the nicotinized version (left) is readily apparent. Curiously, the inside warning leaflet and bottle warning was identical in both the packages below, other than the poison symbol on the version with nicotine.

The back panel of the nicotine-free liquid has larger
text warning than the nicotine-bearing version.

Health Canada is letting the industry decide the warnings

S-5 gives the federal government the authority to regulate packaging and web-site advertising, and to require the manufacturers to provide "information ... about the product and its emissions and about the health hazards and health effects arising from the use of the product and from its emissions."  It also authorizes regulations to cover point-of-sale promotions.

No such regulations are yet in place, although Health Canada has had at least 18 months since the bill was introduced to prepare some. In the consultation paper issued last year, the department proposped the following warning: "Health Canada proposes to require that vaping products that contain nicotine display a warning such as:  'WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance. Use of nicotine during pregnancy may harm the fetus.' "

The warning required by the European Union requires that consumers be warned that nicotine is a "highly addictive" substance.

More on Health Canada's communications on e-cigarettes in a later blog!