Thursday, 16 May 2019

It's time for Health Canada to clamp down on vaping ads

Almost a year has passed since the federal government opened the door for tobacco companies to begin to sell vaping products in Canada. (Until May 23, 2018 it was illegal to sell recreational nicotine devices in Canada).

It wasn't long before vaping among kids was recognized as a public health crisis. Principals took the doors off washrooms. Parents wrote letters to government. Public Health Units spoke with alarm.

What hasn't happened yet is a clamping down on the types of marketing that are driving the youth vaping epidemic. Health Canada has said that they want to put new regulations in place, but they won't have time to do so for another year or so. Groups like ours want the law to be strengthened to remove all advertising, but with an election around the corner and bills piled up in Parliament, this is not going to happen soon either.

So what is to be done? For a start, a stricter application of the current law would lessen the volume and the harmfulness of the ads that are now in circulation.

PSC has identified four important areas where the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act could be enforced, but is not. They are:

Youth appealing designs. 
Health Canada is not enforcing the ban on vaping devices whose design is appealing to young persons. (S. 30.41) Enforcing this restriction would remove from the market those products (like JUUL) which are driving the youth vaping epidemic.

Misleading advertising
Health Canada is not enforcing the ban on promotions which create a general impression that the products are less harmful than they are. (S 30.42(1-2). Echoing Supreme Court decisions on the need to protect inexperienced consumers, the Quebec Court of Appeal recently ruled that the absence of appropriately detailed and prominent health warnings on tobacco promotions is a form of misleading advertising. Enforcing this restriction would remove advertisements, brand activations and social media posts where warnings do not meet the standards established by court.

Lifestyle advertisements
Health Canada is not enforcing the ban on advertisements which communicate risk and daring, aspects which trigger the ban on ‘lifestyle advertisements’ in the law (ss 2 and  30.2). Current vaping products make direct and indirect appeals to the significant risks associated with nicotine use. A strong enforcement of the ban on lifestyle advertisements would remove most advertisements.

Testimonial advertisements in exchange for gifts or money
Health Canada is not enforcing the ban on the use of testimonials and endorsements in vaping advertisements. (S. 30.21(1). Vaping companies are engaging young people as brand activators, distributors and social influencers to promote vaping devices through face to face and on-line contact, often in exchange for gifts or money, a practice which is also contrary to the TVPS (s. 30.6). Enforcing these restrictions would protect young people from this commercialized peer pressure.

Want to know more?  Our backgrounder can be downloaded here!