Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be here to begin the second reading debate on Bill S-5, an act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Bill S-5 was introduced into the other place last November by Senator Petitclerc. My sincere thanks to the senator for helping advance this legislation, and to the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for their work in reviewing this bill.
All members of this House are aware of the dangers associated with tobacco use. They also know that reducing the use of tobacco has been a primary public health goal of governments, at all levels, for decades.
My colleagues should also know that tobacco use is a significant economic burden on this country as well. It cost Canadian society approximately $16.2 billion as of 2012, the last year for which figures are available. That is $466 for every Canadian. These costs are for health care, responding to tobacco-related fires, policing contraband tobacco, research and prevention, and include lost productivity due to disability and premature death from tobacco use.
Bill S-5 will advance key elements of our government's comprehensive plan to strengthen tobacco control in Canada. These include the establishment of a new framework for regulating vaping products and facilitating the implementation of plain packaging for tobacco products.
Before I lay out details of the bill, I want to set out some broader context, so that members may appreciate the need for strengthening tobacco control and how the bill fits in within the broader health agenda.
When the federal tobacco control strategy was launched in 2001, Canada's tobacco control approaches were regarded as innovative and world leading. As a nation, we established an impressive track record in driving down tobacco use. Indeed, we established ourselves as a world leader in this area. Overall, our smoking rate has fallen, from 22% in 2001, to 13% in 2015. Since the launch of the federal strategy, all the provinces and territories have enacted their own tobacco control legislation and approaches. The combined efforts of federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments in tobacco control have been crucial to Canada's success to date. The decline in tobacco use in Canada means that fewer Canadians will die as a result. This is something we can all be proud of. However, we can always do better.
The sad fact is that 4.5 million Canadians still use tobacco. In 2015 alone, 115,000 Canadians became daily smokers. Approximately, 45,000 Canadians will die every year from tobacco-related illness, representing 18% of all Canadian deaths. That is one person every 12 minutes. By the time we finish with this speech, another Canadian will have passed away from a tobacco-related illness. The toll of tobacco-related preventable deaths is unacceptable. Our goal recognizes the need to establish a new regulatory framework, one that is firmly grounded on public health imperatives.
Canada has ceded the mantle of world leader in tobacco control to other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom. They have been quicker to adapt their tobacco control efforts to address the always-changing strategies that tobacco companies use to recruit new smokers. It is our government's intention to once again make Canada a world leader in tobacco control. That is why we have launched an ambitious tobacco-control agenda. This agenda has four main components.
First, our government published an order amending the Tobacco Act to ban the use of menthol in most tobacco products sold on the Canadian market. Evidence has shown that the use of these products makes tobacco more palatable. Tobacco companies have acted on this by introducing menthol products in far greater numbers. By implementing a ban on menthol, we have acted on the evidence as well. The changes we made expanded flavour restrictions to 95% of the entire tobacco market in Canada, helping to make tobacco products less appealing to youth. With Bill S-5, we are proposing to go further and ban it in 100% of tobacco products.
Second, our government has initiated work to modernize Canada's approach to tobacco control. The federal tobacco control strategy was set to expire on March 31, 2017. We have extended this deadline to March 2018 to allow more time to consult broadly and to fully examine all of the options. This past March, we convened a national forum, at which more than 150 stakeholders and partners discussed the future of tobacco control in Canada. We launched the forum by asking participants how we could best modernize Canada's approach to tobacco control. We also conducted an online public consultation on the future of tobacco control. Reaching our goal will require the support of all Canadians, including stakeholders, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, and indigenous peoples.
We heard from more than 1,800 individuals and organizations from across Canada. We heard that Canadians are tired of having their health and the health of their loved ones adversely affected by this highly addictive substance. They are ready to take action to prevent young people from taking up smoking, and they are ready to make a commitment to living healthier lives.
Third, our government has committed to implementing plain and standardized packaging for tobacco packages and products and to make them less attractive to our youth and other Canadians. This commitment was identified in the Minister of Health's mandate letter, and its implementation is a priority for our government.
Fourth, we have committed to addressing the growing market for vaping products. Regulating vaping is important to the health of Canadians, particularly in terms of protecting youth and preventing the potential renormalization of smoking. As I said earlier, our tobacco control strategy must remain up to date with the changing product trends.
Having provided details on our government's agenda for tobacco control, I would like now to take this opportunity to provide more details on the key aspects of Bill S-5.
Bill S-5 supports our commitment to implementing plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products. Tobacco packages are powerful promotional vehicles for the industry to communicate brand imagery. Research has shown that plain packaging measures, including the removal of logos, textures, colours, and brand image, help make tobacco products less appealing, especially to youth.
I firmly believe that tobacco companies should not be able to use attractive packaging to market a product that causes devastating, indisputable, and well-documented damage to people's health. Canadians agree, and they are ready to support action by the federal government that would discourage youth from starting to use tobacco products. As such, the bill would support the implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products by providing the authority to develop regulations to enable and facilitate this.
Bill S-5 will also help us respond to the rapid increase we have seen in the popularity of vaping products. Evidence has suggested that these new products, while harmful, would be less harmful than traditional tobacco products, and consequently they have the potential to bring about public health benefits if they reduce tobacco-related death and disease.
For smokers who are unable to quit, switching to a vaping product could be a way to reduce the harm that smoking has on their health and the burden that it places upon society. However, these products could also potentially lead to nicotine addiction to the use of tobacco products, and to the renormalization of smoking behaviour, reversing the gains we have made over the past 30 years.
Recent surveys conducted by Health Canada indicate that 26% of Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 have tried an e-cigarette. This is a concern. Early exposure to nicotine can render an individual more susceptible to nicotine addiction and may have adverse consequences for brain development. Sadly, young people may not recognize the lifelong implications of experimenting with these products. Bill S-5 aims to strike a balance, allowing adult smokers to use vaping products which may provide them with a path away from the more deadly cigarette, while also protecting youth and non-users from being recruited into a lifelong addiction to nicotine.
The legislation proposes to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling, and promotion of vaping products with and without nicotine, including vaping devices and substances such as e-liquids. The bill would amend the Non-smokers' Health Act to protect those in federally regulated workplaces from the potential harms of second-hand vapour. The bill would also harmonize compliance and enforcement authorities for both tobacco and vaping products with other modern statutes administered by Health Canada.
Bill S-5 also contains provisions aimed specifically at protecting young people from vaping products. For example, the bill would restrict youth access to vaping products by prohibiting the sale of these products to youth under the age of 18. It would protect youth from inducements to using vaping products by prohibiting marketing practices known to be effective at targeting youth.
In these ways, Bill S-5 responds to the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Health in its report entitled “Vaping: Towards a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes”.
Some people have been critical of Bill S-5 because they want to be able to promote vaping products as reduced-risk products. To address this concern, the other place proposed amendments to Bill S-5 to allow the government, through regulations, to set out exceptions for certain evidence-based statements regarding the relative health risks of vaping products. Once these regulations are in place, manufacturers and retailers would be allowed to use these statements in their promotions for vaping products. At the same time, Canadians would continue to be protected from deceptive or misleading claims on the health hazards of using vaping products.
We will also continue to invest in scientific research to better understand the health impacts of vaping and to gather data on how Canadians are using these products. In fact, Health Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are already collaborating to regularly generate data on vaping products which is used to inform policy and regulatory decisions.
Let me be clear. The evidence we have today indicates that while it is true that vaping products are less harmful than cigarettes, they are still potentially harmful. Bill S-5 would enable us to have stronger federal oversight to better protect Canadians from the negative health effects associated with using these products. Should Bill S-5 become law, Canada will join the ranks of some 60 countries that have already taken action to specifically regulate vaping products.
These international approaches range from minimal regulation to full bans. Despite these differences, many jurisdictions, including the European Union and the United States, are taking similar approaches to protecting youth from the dangers of nicotine addiction while allowing adult smokers to access vaping products.
In conclusion, the proposed legislation would allow our government to protect the health of Canadians by establishing a new framework for regulating the manufacture, sale, labelling, and advertising of vaping products in a flexible way that could be adjusted as our knowledge of these products evolves.
I would like to reiterate that vaping products are not harmless, and that the evidence on nicotine is clear. It is particularly harmful to young people. Given these facts, our government is committed to taking action and to balancing the needs of Canadians through this legislation.
Bill S-5 takes into consideration both the health harms, and the potential public health benefits of vaping products. It aims to protect youth and non-users of tobacco products from inducements to use tobacco, and it would allow adults to legally access vaping products as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.
Bill S-5 also supports our government's efforts to implement plain and standardized packaging requirements for tobacco products. It is a critical piece of our government's tobacco control agenda. If passed, Bill S-5 would contribute to reducing tobacco use in Canada and allow for the regulation of vaping in a way that protects the health and safety of Canadians.
Our government is committed to charting a new course of action in tobacco control that contributes to our overall vision for a healthy Canada. It is critical that we work together to address one of our most challenging and enduring public health problems. Accordingly, I encourage all members to support Bill S-5 at second reading and refer it to the Standing Committee on Health for further study.