Editorial Comment


    According to the website, firefightingincanada.com, and others as reputable, cigarette smoking is the number one cause of house fires in Canada. Tobacco use is also the leading cause of lung disease in the world. The tar in the smoke that is produced is so harmful, it even affects non-smokers in the vicinity with so-called “second-hand smoke”. The number of “Why Smoking is Bad” listings is so long, and the problems so serious, it is a mystery why Health Canada appears to be blocking entry into the country of a product that can reduce and even negate practically every danger that cigarettes present, including those listed above.
    They’re called electronic cigarettes or e-cigs. They resemble a normal cigarette but, instead of tobacco, uses a cartridge of nicotine to simulate smoking. The best part is there is no tar-filled smoke produced; only water vapour. It’s even safe to be around those enjoying it, or “vaping” as it’s called. There is no hot ember, either, so the threat of fire is removed, as well. In light of the fact smoke isn’t being inhaled, just nicotine, the lungs are being spared the damaging tar which is the cause of the majority of the lung and esophageal issues associated with smoking. The nicotine is what addicts you, but it’s the tar that kills you.
    There are some e-cigs sold in Canada already, of course, available from your finer tobacconists and convenience stores. These, however, don’t contain nicotine. Some are designed to accommodate the nicotine cartridges but those cartridges are not allowed to cross the Canada/US border. In a recent CTV report, customs officials stated they have intercepted 485 nicotine cartridge shipments in the last two years. It is obvious there is a demand for the product in this country and no wonder. Some reports have indicated almost 80% of smokers who have tried the nicotine version of the e-cigs continued to use them over regular cigarettes. That is an astounding amount.
    So why isn’t Health Canada allowing this product into the country? Their belief is that there haven’t been enough medical studies to ensure the safety of the product. This is a peculiar concern. Obviously it isn’t the delivery system they have anxiety over, since e-cigs are already approved for sale in Canada, as long as they feature candy-like flavours but no nicotine. That only leaves the question of whether ingesting nicotine is safe. Given that nicotine delivery systems are also already here in Canada, via various gum, lozenges, misters and patch media, that can’t be their issue either.
    This means their opposition to the e-cig is preposterous. We already know the effects of nicotine on the body.  We also are aware of the even harsher and more damaging effects of real cigarettes. It’s not like there will be a rush of new smokers getting into the habit via e-cigs, another of Health Canada’s fears. It is much more likely to be an escape route for hard core smokers to either quit or lessen the health risks of nicotine ingestion for themselves and others. This is an instance where Health Canada must weigh, not how dangerous these products are, but how much less of a threat they are than the monstrously dangerous products they will replace.
    I appreciate that it is in our best interest not to have Health Canada immediately adopt everything that has been approved south of the border without doing their own due diligence. However, if they are truly serious about adding a powerful new arrow to their “War on Smoking Deaths” quiver, they should surely fast-track this product. It is, after all nothing more than a different way to take nicotine into the body; not much different than the nicotine gum or mist. The only difference is that e-cigs address the other half of the smoker’s craving which is the hand-to-mouth habit, besides the chemical addiction. Other delivery methods, be they chewable, sprayable or wearable, do not help with this aspect of a smoker’s cravings. So, if e-cigs are merely a much safer way to get nicotine into your system than smoking the real thing, why are approval authorities dragging their feet?
    It could be simply Health Canada has a hate-on for smokers. They don’t want smoking to be safer, they want you to quit. They’ve said as much, directing that no type of e-cig can be advertised as a smoking cessation device, even the candy flavoured ones with no nicotine. The problem is they aren’t necessarily being sold as a way to quit, only as a safer way to indulge your nicotine habit. This fact escapes the authorities, sadly.
    What if, however, it isn’t self-righteous scorn that non and ex-smokers hold for those still with the habit that prevents approval of, what should be, a slam dunk? If a person used their imagination, one could easily envision other forces at work trying to prevent e-cigs entry into Canada. There are entities that do benefit from the status quo that have been known to exert undue influence on governments (Big Tobacco, we’re talking about you.) However, many of the old guard cigarette manufacturers have invested large into e-cigs so they’re probably off the hook. That only leaves one other group who makes tons o’ cash from tobacco, with influence with the government, and that’s the government itself. The various levels that tax cigarettes with not just glee but with deeply held self-righteousness depend on tobacco taxes for revenue and certainly have a motive for preventing anything from changing the status quo. Still, whether it’s anti-smoking zealotry, political pressure or some other reason we haven’t explored, Health Canada should get serious about saving lives and approve nicotine e-cigs. Whatever their rationale is, it’s a poor excuse for inaction.

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