Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today to speak to Bill S-5, an act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. There are two parts to the bill. One speaks to the plain packaging issue and the rest to vaping.
I am going to take my usual approach and say what I like about the bill and what I do not like, and then discuss things I think we should consider as we move the bill forward.
I am very proud of the Conservative Party's record on reducing tobacco smoking. When the Conservative government implemented measures in this area, the number of young people in Canada smoking tobacco was cut in half. That is admirable. Smoking rates overall under our government fell to an all-time low of 13%. I think everyone in the House would admit that we know that smoking is harmful. We want to reduce the number of people smoking and the harmful effects associated with it. However, that is not the only consideration in the bill. We also need to make sure that we reduce the crime involved in all of the things the bill addresses. We need to be concerned as well about any of the economic impacts we might see as the bill is implemented.
With respect to the vaping industry, it is possible that people are not very familiar with vaping. I had a number of people in the industry come to me and demonstrate all the neat devices one can use to take either glycol, water, or some additives and heat them to a vapour that one can inhale. A number of things are being vaped. In some cases, people use vaping to get off smoking. They start with a concentrated nicotine liquid and over time reduce the concentration of that nicotine liquid. The act of vaping sort of satisfies their smoking need, and over time they actually can quit smoking.
In addition to that, there are different flavours that have been allowed. People are vaping flavours for different reasons, some to get off smoking, and some to address other situations. Folks who are diabetic or morbidly obese apparently prefer to vape something that has a sweet flavour to it, because then they are not really receiving any calories but are addressing one of their compulsive needs.
This is the information that has been shared with me by the vaping industry. On the other hand, the vaping industry today is totally unregulated. That is a problem, because in Canada we regulate pretty much everything else: food, drugs, etc. We are also concerned about vaping products getting into the hands of children, so we would like to see the industry regulated. That is a part of the bill I do like. We need to regulate this industry. The recommendation to only make making vaping products available to those over 18 is a very good idea.
We also need to make sure that as we deal with this, we take into consideration all of the different types of devices. This is an area where the technology is changing. One of the points raised earlier was that e-cigarettes need to be in this category. However, even within the tobacco industry, there is growing science to reduce harm. Therefore, one of the products that is not currently addressed by this legislation, but needs to be addressed somewhere, is nicotine sticks, the actual tobacco sticks that are heated. They are not being combusted. It is not a smoking phenomenon; it is a heating phenomenon. The research that has been done by that industry shows there is a 75% harm reduction from these products. Somewhere, these products need to be addressed, but they are not really addressed today by this legislation. I have heard some conversation suggesting that they would remain under the tobacco part of the legislation, but that would not give them a fair playing field, because they would be competing with the vaping products.
The vaping products that are out there need to be regulated. We need to be concerned about how these things will be promoted and sold. Today, unregulated vaping shops have arisen. The regular convenience stores are not able to get into that market, so the input from the Canadian Convenience Stores Association is that whatever rules are put in place, they would like to be able to partake and participate in that market. That is a reasonable concern.
One of the studies done in the U.K. on vaping shows a 95% reduction in harm from vaping over smoking regular tobacco. This is definitely moving in the direction of reduced harm. I am concerned that if we are too restrictive about advertising those benefits, it might be a mistake. We want people to stop smoking. That is one of the main drivers of all the things we are talking about today, so that is something that needs to be considered as well.
I will move on to the plain packaging side of the story. The history of that is an implementation that was done in Australia. The outcomes were twofold. One, there was a slight reduction in the number of people smoking tobacco. I believe there were 100,000 fewer people smoking tobacco over a three-year period. However, there was an increase in contraband. Australia does not produce its own tobacco. It imports everything. Within that, contraband grew from 10% to 26%. That is concerning, especially when we look at how that compares to Canada.
We have quite a contraband problem in the tobacco industry in Canada. In fact, in Ontario, it is estimated that 40% to 60% of cigarettes sold are contraband. I know in my own riding, there are smoke shops literally everywhere where people can buy illegal contraband tobacco. It is simply not being enforced by the police today. Many of the first nations in my riding are the ones putting forward this product. I understand the sensitivity of that.
If we are going to go to plain packaging, there are consumer health considerations, because there have been numerous complaints about the content of some of this contraband tobacco. We have heard stories about dirt, sweepings, and animal manure. From a quality control point of view, as was pointed out earlier, if a cigarette has absolutely no markings on it, we have no idea if it was made by a well-regulated industry or if it was made in someone's barn. That is a concern for me. We have a lot of regulation in every other area of food and drugs, and this should be no different.
The other thing that is sort of hypocritical on the part of the government has to do with a discussion I participated in on the health committee with respect to marijuana and whether plain packaging would be appropriate for it. To start, organized crime is already participating in this market. There is lovely packaging, with all kinds of colours, and people are becoming brand loyal, especially in the edibles market. The idea was that if plain packaging was introduced, it would not be competitive with what is already in place from organized crime. The discussion was that they would not move to plain packaging.
I do not know how one could make that argument on that side and not on the tobacco side, with a 40% contraband market in Ontario, and I believe, about 30% across the country. That bears a bit of discussion, because what we are really talking about is competing harms. There is the harm reduction we are going to get from going to plain packaging for smoking versus the harm increase from not having quality control for that product, plus the harm from the organized crime interactions. We have to take a bit of a holistic view when we look at that.
A number of organizations are weighing in on this legislation. We looked to the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation for their input on this.
The Canadian Cancer Society said, “We applaud the federal government's commitment to implement plain and standardized packaging for tobacco and are writing to encourage speedy adoption of the regulations. Plain packaging for tobacco products would prevent tobacco companies from using packs as mini billboards promoting tobacco.
“Despite the fact that smoking rates have declined by more than half, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada, killing 37,000 Canadians every year. We're deeply concerned by Canada's unacceptable high rates of smoking, especially among youth.
“Health Canada's tobacco strategy expires in March 18. I urge you to strengthen this strategy through better funding to allow for stronger initiatives and greater impact through modernization of the outdated federal Tobacco Act, that is almost 20 years old, and through the speedy adoption of plain-packaging regulations.”
We see that these organizations see some merit in plain packaging, but obviously, they share similar concerns about controlling quality. It may be that we want to have some kind of government-approved mark on cigarettes that would at least allow the consumer to differentiate between something that is contraband and something that is not. That said, we know that those in organized crime are quite clever, and if we put a mark on something, they could easily copy it. We see that we even have counterfeit money, so that may not fix that concern.
Some of the other things I want to talk about have to do with the recommendations specific to packaging. There was discussion about having an optional alphanumeric code used for product identification. I think it should actually not be optional. It would mean there would be a number system on each cigarette, with letters referring either to Canada or to the province or territory where it is sold, such as AB for Alberta, or CA overall, or CA-ON for Canada-Ontario. Having a set of numbers would be another prevention tactic that could be used to try to keep contraband out of the market. It is worth considering.
Bill S-5 also would not allow the tobacco industry to introduce the harm-reducing products it is coming forward with under the vaping legislation. They would be required to be under the tobacco legislation, which is more onerous, from a product introduction point of view. That includes getting products approved, getting products added to the list, and the amount of scientific evidence businesses have to bring about health and other impacts, including environmental. I would say that there needs to be a fairer playing field between them.
Let us talk a bit about marijuana, because the government is intending to legalize marijuana in July 2018. It seems to me that it is a totally hypocritical approach. We are trying to modernize regulations about smoking, and the Liberals, even though they want to reduce smoking, have added marijuana smoking to the list of things they want to do.
I am certain that the Liberals would want to bring amendments to this bill that would include marijuana so that it is clear, because people are vaping marijuana, and they are smoking marijuana. Both are harmful. The Canadian Medical Association has come out with studies that show the harm to young people as their brains are developing. They see a 30% increase in schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety, and addiction in young people who consume marijuana once a week. If we are talking about reducing overall harm, it would be a concern to me to bring marijuana into this whole thing. That speaks again to having measures in place to make sure that young people do not get hold of these products.
At convenience stores today, cigarettes are kept behind the counter. People cannot see them. I am not sure that on top of that we actually need plain packaging. People cannot see the packaging, so I do not think those who are smoking are really buying cigarettes on brand loyalty. Considerations that might be important are actually more about regulating size. Companies have started to come out with slender packs of cigarettes, with cigarettes that are skinnier and that come in little ladylike packages. Even if they make the package plain, allowing that different size gives the illusion that somehow smoking will make people skinny. I do not know that this is always true, although we do see quite often that when people stop smoking, they gain weight, so there might be something to it.
I think that is certainly an enticement, and for women who want to carry cigarettes around in their purse, it is quite convenient. It is an incentive to smoke. We want to look at all those things and say that perhaps that is not the right idea.
We also need to give consideration to the existing industry. In Canada, we have a number of tobacco producers, and they have seen job losses over the years. They recognize that eventually we want to eliminate all smoking. However, they have an export business, and there is a demand out there. Therefore, we need to be sensitive to the impact on jobs. One of the questions their representatives asked me when they came to visit had to do with their ability to produce a colourful package to export. It is not clear in this legislation whether that would be allowed, because we would only allow the production of plain packaging. There would have to be some sort of exemption to allow them to continue to supply cigarettes for export. Otherwise, it would hurt their businesses, and obviously there would be job reductions. That is an economic concern.
There are also members who have tobacco growers in their ridings who will be concerned about the impact of any changes that come out of this bill. We need to give consideration to that as well.
There is a lot to consider and discuss in this bill. There are some good things in the bill, such as the fact that the vaping industry would be regulated, and we would be able to put in some protections to make sure that children were not accessing vaping products. We would be able to make sure that retailers that cannot participate in the industry could start to participate, which could be a good outcome.
However, we see that on the plain packaging side, there are a lot of inconsistencies. There is inconsistency in the approach we would use for marijuana versus tobacco. There are concerns about quality control and how we would make sure to protect consumers from contraband versus the well-regulated and quality-controlled production of cigarettes. There is the whole area of the new technology and trying to create a fair playing field for that.
I am impressed to see the tobacco companies coming forward with multiple generations of new products that are not smoked tobacco that are used to get people to ultimately reduce their nicotine intake and get off this drug. However, right now the constraints on them, because they are regulated as smoked tobacco products, are not helping them move in the right direction, which is the direction we want to see people go. We want people to stop smoking. We know that smoking is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to help the industry as we transition to products that transition Canadians from smoking.
At the same time, we need to make sure that we do not incentivize young Canadians with the marijuana legislation that is being introduced, which includes the message that kids aged 12 to 17 can possess up to five grams. That is the wrong message. There are a lot of children and young people who do not understand that marijuana is harmful to them. We need to get that public education message out there. We need to make sure that we control all these products so that when they start to be used with marijuana, there are not unintended consequences. I do not think there is a lot of research, for example, on the concentration of marijuana one can vape safely. I think that is an area of concern, especially when we see some of the contaminated supplies of marijuana that exist and that probably will continue to exist.
For all of those reasons, I think there is enough good in this bill that it is worth talking about. However, as members can see, there are a lot of areas of concern that would have to be sorted out at committee. As one of the members of the health committee, I look forward to helping sort through them to see whether we can address these issues and come out with a bill that, at the end of the day, will do more good for Canadians than harm.