Health Canada’s E-Cig restrictions deserve to go up in smoke

The Weal ― OpinionsHealth Canada has currently banned a healthier alternative to smoking, while keeping cigarettes available in every corner store—it’s a move that makes no sense, and needs to be reversed.

E-cigarettes contain no smoke, no tobacco and have fewer toxins than their paper alternative. They cost less than cigarettes, as one e-cigarette cartridge is equal in size and cost to a full pack, and are frequently used by smokers to help them quit the habit, often taking the nicotine in smaller and smaller doses in exchange for nicotine-free flavoured cartridges such as menthol or vanilla.

However, even though Canadian sales of e-cigarettes are drastically rising to take a bigger share of the tobacco market, Health Canada,“advises Canadians not to purchase or use electronic smoking products, as they may pose health risks and have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy.”

E-cigarettes containing nicotine are banned in Canada, the only country other than Australia that has put a restriction on their sale.

It’s irrational. Why ban something that is less harmful than the currently available alternative? Walk in to any corner store in your city, and you’ll see (behind a barrier) 10 or more varieties of cigarettes and tobacco for sale behind the counter—not to mention the variety available in specialty shops.

According to a 2011 study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 79 per cent of smokers were able to entirely substitute their cigarette addiction for e-cigarettes. As harm reduction goes, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

As for the criticism that cigarettes could lead towards children and young adults getting hooked on actual cigarettes, it seems a bit silly. For one thing, while both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes have a variety of flavours, both are only available with ID to those over 18. Also, it’s pretty hard to imagine a kid getting hooked on candy-flavoured, nicotine-free vapour, and switching over to the harsh, lung-burning alternative of an actual cigarette.

So why would the government ban the sale of a product that is so clearly a beneficial alternative to tobacco products? According to Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, in 2011 the Canadian government made $7,538,367,182.00 in tobacco tariffs. That number has been rising each year. The more customers hooked on big tobacco means the more money the government is able to rake in. That’s because Canada has some of the highest taxes on cigarettes and related products in the world.

However, for every dollar made in tobacco profiteering, a dollar is spent towards societal costs such as health care costs and lost productivity.

If the government really wanted to work towards improving health, and not losing economic benefits, they would permit e-cigarettes with nicotine to be sold – they could even tax them at the same rate as cigarettes. Our prohibition on them is incomprehensible, and will definitely continue to cause harm unless it’s changed.

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