Mr. Speaker, I would describe the thesis of my speech as helpful suggestions for committee stage. On the surface, there are quite a few positive things in this piece of legislation, and something I think all of us in the House can agree on is that it is a positive thing to reduce tobacco product usage. I am sure some lobbyists listening to this might not agree, but I think that is something we probably all agree on here. The question then is how we do that. Would the legislative framework we are looking to introduce drive to that end goal? Would it make Canada healthier? What are some of the opportunity costs? What are the costs associated with implementing this legislation? How do we make sure that at committee stage some of these issues are addressed?
For anyone watching, this bill was introduced in the other place and has gone through the reading stages there. It is an act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. It was introduced in the other place on November 22, 2016. The bill proposes amendments that would implement a legislative framework under the Tobacco Act for vaping products. To clarify, a vaping product is defined in subclause 3(3) of this bill as:
(a) a device that produces emissions in the form of an aerosol and is intended to be brought to the mouth for inhalation of the aerosol;
(b) a device that is designated to be a vaping product by the regulations;
(c) a part that may be used with those devices; and
(d) a substance or mixture of substances, whether or not it contains nicotine, that is intended for use with those devices to produce emissions.
It does not include devices and substances or mixtures of substances that are excluded by the regulations, tobacco products or their accessories.
This has come up in debate already. As I understand it, and I would be happy to hear some clarification, this bill does not actually cover something that we would refer to as heat-not-burn cigarettes. When I studied this legislation, I will be honest that I had no clue about the differences between these products, but they are different and are being marketed separately now. It feels like one of those whack-a-mole situations where we have introduced this legislation to put regulations on vaping products, but we are now lagging behind on this other form of tobacco.
Since I have spent some time defining what the bill covers, my understanding is that the bill does not include heat-not-burn cigarettes. An article in The Globe and Mail in August 2017, stated:
One of the world's largest tobacco companies is rolling out a smokeless cigarette in Canada that it contends is less harmful than conventional combustible products, but some critics call the device merely a ploy to maintain – or even increase – market share in the face of dwindling smoking rates.
Philip Morris International has developed a heat-not-burn product called IQOS, or I-Quit-Ordinary-Smoking,—
They have tried to brand it as a smoking cessation product:
—that the tobacco giant says retains a high level of nicotine while reducing carcinogenic components found in the smoke of regular cigarettes.
As I understand it, this product heats the tobacco stick or cigarette up to a point where the substance can be inhaled, but is not actually combusting the product. Therefore, by the definition of the producer, not as many carcinogenic products are being inhaled. Under the theme of helpful suggestions for committee, my understanding is that the proposed regulations in the current bill do not cover this product, but we probably need some regulatory congruency just so there is some certainty both in the marketplace and for consumers and the health care system on what the government's intent is with this other product.
As far as I can tell, this product is being quasi-marketed as a smoking cessation product, but there has not been a lot of arm's-length research to show that it actually does that. The research that I have read on vaping products, which are also marketed as smoking cessation products, is that they actually prolong the period to cessation because people maintain their addiction to the nicotine.
As this bill heads to committee, I think that those particular claims and whether they are adequately addressed within this regulatory framework are important to address. If we do not have the quantitative data to look at that, then it is incumbent upon the government to initiate some studies to that effect. I did find as a legislator there was a bit of a gap in information on those claims. Certainly, the producers of these products have done research. As a legislator, I would like to see some arm's-length research done prior to making any sort of conclusions on that particular issue.
To continue on with the debate around the IQOS product, or this slightly less smoky cigarette, I want to read one of the complaints about it because I do not think the health minister has commented on this yet. It states:
David Hammond, an expert in tobacco policy at the University of Waterloo, said PMI and other tobacco companies have been making claims about minimizing health risks for decades, going back to the 1950s when filtered cigarettes were introduced.
“If they think combustible cigarettes are killing people and they would rather not sell them, then I would ask them why they continue to sell them?” he said.
Still, Hammond agreed that any nicotine product that doesn't involve smoke inhalation “is almost certainly going to be less harmful than regular smoked cigarettes. That includes e-cigarettes and it probably includes these products.”
I am reading that statement into the record because of the number of times “probably” and “maybe” are used. I think there are a lot of claims that are being inserted into the rationale for proceeding with this regulation. However, we just do not have a lot of quantitative data on it. Again, I am not trying to use that as a knock on the bill itself, but more that this is something which as parliamentarians we should be trying to get more information on at committee.
My colleague from Cariboo—Prince George, who is a fantastic colleague, brought an article to my attention that talked about the context as to why this legislation is important. An article was released a couple of days ago about a situation that occurred in Delta, British Columbia. A baseball player died under some circumstances and his mother has been calling for stronger vaping regulations after his death. This is the Kyle Losse case. His stepmother Niki Losse took Kyle to the hospital and then he passed away. She found an e-vape product where he had collapsed. A subsequent blood test determined that Kyle had nicotine in his system, and she believes there was some sort of an associated risk here.
The Kyle Losse case underscores the fact that there has not been a lot of research on the health effects of vaping tobacco. There are a lot of claims out there. While it might be true that the health impact of vaping products may be less harmful than traditional tobacco products, we do not understand what unique health challenges they may present.
As this legislation progresses, it is important for the government to look at a research framework around this issue, so that as we review the efficacy of this framework, assuming that it goes into force, we can measure those outcomes against quantifiable research. I must emphasize the point that when I was preparing for this bill, there was no consistent body of research that one could point to from credible, peer-reviewed sources that really hit a lot of these claims home. That is something we should look at.
A lot has been made about the plain packaging. I would like to take some time to talk about that as well and make a similar point.
The parliamentary secretary, in his introductory speech on this bill, talked about how Canada was lagging behind. In the past we had always been a world leader in legislation that aimed to reduce tobacco usage. He said that Canada had ceded the mantle of world leader in tobacco control to other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, that they had been quicker to adapt tobacco control efforts to address the always changing stories tobacco companies used to recruit new smokers, and that it was the government's intention to once again make Canada a world leader in tobacco control. The he went on to talk about the plain packaging component.
Australia has put in place plain packaging. On the surface, this is probably worth exploring, but there are associated consequences with it that we do not have a lot of research on, including the potential correlation between the introduction of plain packaging and an increase in contraband tobacco, as has been discussed at length in the House.
As always, when we as legislators use data from other jurisdictions, I sometimes feel we do ourselves a disservice, and I will get to that in a minute because there is not a lot of quantifiable data on that link one way or the other from other jurisdictions. Canada is in a fundamentally different context than a country like France. We are more geographically diverse, we have different problems with contraband, and we also have a higher rate of contraband being a problem.
At committee stage, it is worth it to perhaps bring in more experts who could speak to the problem of contraband and how the legislation with plain packaging could impact that and then amend the regulatory framework in such a way that perhaps the component could be addressed.
When I read the debate, one of my NDP colleagues asked the parliamentary secretary about this issue and the response was that the Liberals had a strategy to deal with it, which is administered by the RCMP and other agencies. I think that strategy actually turns out in March of this year. I have a concern that if this legislation comes into force and we have not adequately thought about the specific measures we need to implement within combatting a contraband framework unique to Canada, while layering on the additional pressure that the plain packaging regulations in this might have, we will do Canadians a disserve.
To emphasize the point of how much contraband is an issue in Canada, an article was posted by CBC in November 2017, which says “Contraband tobacco 'out of control' in Ontario, convenience store lobby says”. It says:
More cigarettes smoked in Ontario this year are contraband than in the last four years, a study released Wednesday by a group of convenience store owners in the province suggests. The study found especially large percentages of contraband cigarettes in northern Ontario. In the cities near Hamilton, the largest increase by far was in Brantford, where contraband cigarettes accounted for half of the cigarettes smoked, up from 36 per cent last year. In Hamilton, 31 per cent of cigarettes smoked were contraband, up from 25 per cent a year earlier. Across southwestern Ontario, contraband cigarettes rose to 33.9 per cent from 26 per cent in 2016 — the highest proportional increase in the four regions of the province studied.
The Ontario Convenience Store Association commissions the study every year, where researchers sweep a sample of about 100 butts from high-traffic locations like schools, hospitals, malls and casino in 23 cities. Then the group analyses whether the cigarette was contraband or was legally sold.
The group's president...told CBC News he acknowledges the survey isn't scientific, but said it does get at the trend without relying on consumers, stores or distributors to be honest about whether their smokes are legal.
The reason I wanted to put that on the record is that there is another theme there. He acknowledges that the study is not scientific. We hear on the news that there is an increase in contraband, but we do not really understand how widespread the problem is. This is one sample in one region of the country. It is important to note that Canada has regional differences in tobacco usage. Without having that framework, how can we possibly look at strategies to prevent the distribution of contraband products?
Again, this is a helpful suggestion as the bill goes to committee. It is incumbent upon the government to look at, as the framework for combatting contraband is potentially renewed or whatnot in March, the research on how much contraband is a problem should come to bear.
Perhaps the government could partner on with companies that are doing behavioural research on tobacco consumption using artificial intelligence technology. A lot of new companies are working in this space. Perhaps we could start looking at a better model on how we monitor this.
We love to regulate in this place. It is kind of our first reaction to any sort of policy problem. However, my concern with the implementation of the proposed legislation is that without the associated metrics or a system to measure the efficacy of the legislation, we really cannot tell our constituents whether what we have put in place here is working.
In looking at the proposed legislation, the government has not put a lot of information out to parliamentarians about the cost of implementing the framework. I do not even understand how the government would implement this framework. Therefore, I would like to see my colleagues who will study the bill at the health committee really question departmental officials about how they plan to implement it, over what time period, and what metrics the government will be using. What are the end goals? Is the government stating that the legislation will see x percentage of reduction of tobacco usage over a period of time? If so, how will the government measure that and what sort of quantitative analysis will it put in place to do that?
Again, my review of this shows that there is not a lot of framework out there or research being done on this. My concern, and I am showing my Conservative colours on this, is that we should not be moving directly to regulation without having that framework in place. We should be able to communicate to our constituents, when we put in place regulation, how much it will cost to implement and how we will measure it against stated end goals, which is kind of lacking in the bill.
On the surface, I do not oppose plain packaging. If the data is there to show that it reduces tobacco usage, then it we should probably explore this. However, my question is where is that data right now. The closest thing I could find in another jurisdiction was in France where it has had plain packaging regulations. Official data published on January 29 by the French agency shows that plain packaging has not had an impact on smoking rates. Indeed, according to l'Observatoire français des drogues et des toxicomanies, in the course of 2017, sales of cigarettes remained stable with a slight decrease of a 0.7% in volume after a 1.3% increase in sales during the first half of the year. This study was conducted between August 4, 2017 to January 29, 2018, so this is fresh data.
This failure was acknowledged by the French health minister, Agnès Buzyn, who stated, “We know that plain packaging does not lead smokers to stop smoking.” She concluded that “unfortunately in 2016, the official sales of cigarettes have increased in France. Plain packaging did not contribute to the decrease of official tobacco sales.”
The French study is worth examining at the committee stage. Also, when we do that, we should look at the regional context. What sort of factors does France have that might be different from Canada with respect to tobacco usage and contraband increases?
Whenever we seek to put regulations in place, we should be able to clearly define what we hope to see as the measurable policy outcome, which I am not sure has been stated here; how much it is going to cost; and then how we would measure success.
We need more robust research, and I would like to see the government put that in place prior to implementation of this framework.