I'll make a few remarks in French, and then I'll switch to English.
My name is Flory Doucas and I am the co-director and spokesperson for the Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac.
We appreciate your invitation to testify today in the context of your work on bill S-5.
With regard to Bill S-5, the coalition is fully supportive of the implementation of plain and standardized packaging in Canada, a measure supported by an impressive list of organizations across the country, including some 200 from Quebec, ranging from the association of pulmonary specialists to the City of Montreal.
Before we began, I showed you some packs to consider—a pack from Australia and one for the very same brand by the same manufacturer, sold here in Canada. Clearly, one of them is less appealing and attractive than the other. Clearly, the warning on one of them stands out more and is more persuasive. We encourage the Minister of Health and all parliamentarians to work together to implement plain and standardized packaging as quickly as possible.
That said, the Quebec coalition has serious concerns with Bill S-5's provisions regarding the promotion of nicotine vaping products.
First, allow me to provide some context. Dr. Selby actually pointed to some of it.
Manufacturers of nicotine vaping products can and always have been able to get their devices licensed as medicines or therapies to quit smoking. As for other medicines, manufacturers must provide proof and evidence regarding the claims associated with the therapeutic benefits of their products and show that when used as directed, the benefits outweigh the risks and the medicines alleviate a condition. They don't have to prove that their products are harmless, and many medicines actually have important side effects.
Getting a product licensed as a cessation therapy has its advantages. The Food and Drugs Act allows medicines to be advertised on TV and on the radio, with provisions as to how that can be done. Furthermore, as medicines, these products are reimbursed by many private and public sector plans.
To date, no manufacturer for these products has proceeded to get their nicotine vaping product licensed in Canada or anywhere else in the world.
Thanks to many public sector research dollars from all over the world, we now know enough to say that these products are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, at least in the short term. Also, as all other health groups that previously testified have said, the coalition supports the regulation of these products and believes that smokers should have access to them. The issue here is not access, but rather how these products should be promoted and to whom.
We acknowledge and welcome the amendment voiced by the health minister a week and a half ago. Before this committee, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor said:
Protecting youth from the dangers of nicotine addiction is a top priority of mine. I share some of the concerns expressed by the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control and others, especially regarding lifestyle promotion.
We do not allow lifestyle promotion of tobacco products, and we do not intend to allow it for cannabis products. To protect youth
—and the emphasis on “youth” is mine—
and non-smoking Canadians, I intend to support an amendment that would prohibit all lifestyle promotion of vaping products.
While that is a very beneficial improvement to this bill and will indeed better protect non-smoking adults, especially young adults who would have likely seen ads for these products in bars, such an amendment does nothing to better protect youth. Bill S-5 would permit lifestyle advertising in adult-only venues.
However, we do agree with the minister that youth deserve to be better protected from the promotion of addictive nicotine products, and we recommend that amendments be adopted to achieve this. This can only be achieved by further limiting locations where advertising can occur so as to ensure that kids do not see the ads.
Let me explain. We believe that the language in Bill S-5 has falsely reassured many in terms of what advertising would not be allowed. The language regarding content—not location, but content—of permitted advertising in Bill S-5 is essentially the same as what is currently allowed for tobacco products. The huge difference is with respect to the channel or location where permitted ads can be seen.
Proposed section 30.1 of Bill S-5 bans advertising for vaping products if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the advertising could be appealing to young people. Well, guess what? Subsection 22(3) of the current federal Tobacco Act bans lifestyle advertising as well as advertising that could be construed on reasonable grounds to be appealing to young people for tobacco products.
However, as you know, the legalization of nicotine vaping products will open the market to larger players than those currently operating in it now: the tobacco industry. Restrictions on location or channels where advertising is allowed would go a long way in protecting youth. If tobacco ads were allowed in more locations, the restrictions on content would not mean much, since, based on what we saw when tobacco ads were still allowed in newspapers and magazines, industry still has the capacity to indirectly associate its products to lifestyles and to make their products attractive to young people. This is despite the restrictions on content.
Thankfully, the impact of such ads was limited because they were only allowed in very limited settings. Let me provide some examples of ads published in free weekly papers and magazines before the fall of 2009, when the Harper government banned tobacco advertising in such channels.
I point to the ad for super-slim menthol products. This ad, showing a sleek and pretty product, was not considered to be appealing to young people. The next ad is for smokeless tobacco. Keep in mind that Quebec is the only province to require prominent health warnings on tobacco ads. In other provinces, the same ads would have appeared with no warning or a small, unpersuasive one put there voluntarily by the manufacturer. However, as you can see, the wooden panelling in the background creates the impression of a rustic atmosphere conveying a more natural way of life. With colours, textures, and overall feel, the manufacturer is able to send a positive message regarding this brand of smokeless tobacco.
Here's the next example, with the three smokeless packs. Do you see the mesh background? Does this remind you of a hockey net being hit by three pucks, or maybe more like a batting cage? Keep in mind that for a long time, two tobacco products were used and highly associated with baseball players and other sport professionals.
The geniuses in the tobacco industry's marketing departments regularly use sophisticated graphics to convey indirect messaging and confer a specific aura to different brands. They have shown that they do not need to use real images or depictions of people, cartoons, or animals to evoke lifestyle, to capture a sensation, or to make their products attractive to kids.
The tobacco industry has a history of paying the highest dollars to get top marketing professionals to push the limits of whatever is allowed in terms of promotion. When issues arose with the interpretation of the advertising provisions in the Tobacco Act, Health Canada did not rein in problematic ads swiftly. They were published and republished across the country.
Corrections did not come from the courts either, which is undoubtedly also a long process. Corrections only came later, when the Tobacco Act was amended to ban advertising through the promotional channels that had the problematic ads that kids were seeing.
We ask you to consider the history of tobacco control and the lessons learned from the past, and to act now to avoid similar issues with vaping products. Why risk exposing all our teenagers to ubiquitous promotion for highly addictive nicotine products? Ideally, permitted advertising would be seen by adult smokers. Minimally, advertising should be seen by adults or through channels that are primarily viewed by adults.
All health groups who have testified, including Dr. Gaston Ostiguy, a staunch promoter of e-cigarettes, and the Canadian Vaping Association, have all said that they would either recommend or support stronger dispositions to rein in advertising for these products. Do we really want our kids to see these kinds of ads on billboards in our streets and neighbourhoods? We believe that most Canadian parents would say no.