Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today, I am speaking in support of Bill S-5 to amend the Tobacco Act to include and regulate vaping products and strengthen our hand in the fight against tobacco use.
As my colleagues mentioned earlier, the NDP has worked and collaborated with different governments in the past 30 years to promote and implement the principles underlying this bill. In 2009, the NDP introduced a bill restricting the labelling, packaging and sale of flavoured tobacco, prompting the Conservative government to legislate on the issue.
We have no choice: every year, 37,000 Canadians die from a tobacco-related disease. Tobacco use is the number one avoidable cause of disease and premature death in Canada. Think about it: every 14 minutes, someone dies from using tobacco.
The big tobacco companies want to maintain their profits despite the fact that products containing nicotine are responsible for the current situation. They lied for decades, trying to mask the harmful effects of smoking on public health. That is why it is clear that we must adopt strict and extremely explicit rules and that we must apply them to tobacco and vaping products as soon as possible.
A particular concern of mine as a former teacher is the question of plain packaging and these products’ appeal to young people. Unfortunately, too many young Canadians smoke. Approximately 17.17% of Canadians age 12 or over smoke every day. On average, smokers smoke their first cigarette at around age 13. The tobacco companies are always seeking new ways of attracting young people and promoting customer loyalty. Because we know that nicotine is addictive and that a third of all smokers die from tobacco-related diseases, we must take the matter seriously and pass legislation as soon as possible to prevent other young people from starting smoking and becoming addicted to tobacco products.
We also know that the tobacco companies can be extremely imaginative when it comes to designing packaging and developing techniques to make their cigarettes appealing. For example, they use pastel colours to attract women, one of their target markets. They also associate words like “sexy”, “beauty”, “fun”, and other terms related to the high life in bars with cigarettes. This gives tobacco products a falsely positive image.
If these health issues are not enough, the economic aspect might be of interest to my colleagues. The three largest tobacco companies in Canada made $25 billion in profit in 2015. Meanwhile, the direct and indirect health costs associated with tobacco use are approximately $4 billion per year in Quebec alone. We could repair hundreds of schools and thousands of potholes if we did not have to pay companies to make money from an addiction they themselves cause. These figures and many more can be found on the De Facto website.
Plain packaging helps make cigarette packages less appealing, particularly to adolescents and young adults. This was tested in Australia. The findings were clear: there was a significant decrease of several percentage points in the rate of tobacco use. In New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia, tobacco use among young people plummeted from 23.5% to 6.7%. In Toronto, former Australian minister Nicola Roxon explained to the press how effective the plain packaging law was in reducing smoking in Australia. Since the initiative was implemented in 2012, the number of smokers has dropped by 100,000. Proportionally speaking, we could see 190,000, that is, almost 200,000, fewer smokers in Canada. It is unbelievable. When we speak of tobacco-related diseases and deaths, we are talking about human lives that can be saved by implementing measures like these.
The tobacco industry knew that it would lose profits. For example, Philip Morris Asia sued the Australian government based on clauses in an investment treaty between Hong Kong and Australia. In its press release, the company explained that plain packaging was damaging to its intellectual property and used other spurious arguments to oppose the law. It tried to circumvent the law and manipulate the public, as it had done with nicotine. Finally, its arguments were totally rejected by the highest Australian court of law, and, apparently, the company has been making smaller profits in Australia since then. That is not entirely surprising.
This anecdote reminds us how important it is to bring in plain packaging as soon as possible, and also to be cautious when signing free trade agreements, so that companies like Philip Morris Asia cannot try to undermine our legislative arsenal protecting the health of Quebeckers and Canadians.
The second point in the bill is the regulation of vaping products, the so-called e-cigarettes. The NDP knows that this new technology is a promising harm-reduction tool to help people quit smoking. However, we do not have clear information about the long-term effects of vaping, and we need some in-depth research. We hope that this information will come over time, as the Standing Committee on Health studies this bill.
However, the benefits of this product are still debatable, since little is known about some of the products. Vaping products may contain nicotine, which is still a public health hazard. The department prohibits their importation and has seized a number of products at the border, which shows why we need to do more to limit access to products containing nicotine.
Some methods used to sell e-cigarettes, such as adding flavours, are the same as those used to sell tobacco. Banning some ingredients used to make these products taste better was a good first step, but this bill unfortunately does not prohibit all tobacco flavours, such as menthol. We must limit added flavours as much as possible to ensure that vaping products truly help lower the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Another positive element in the bill is the restriction on the promotion of these products and on the addition of certain ingredients that could be perceived as healthier. Children and youth need to be protected from harmful advertising campaigns. As long as the long-term effects of vaping remain unknown, they cannot be declared safe. We need to apply the precautionary principle, restrict access to this product, and not allow companies to slip in additives, such as vitamins, in an attempt to make the product seem healthy when it is not.
Any regulatory framework for e-cigarettes must seek to maximize the potential benefits of these products as a means of reducing the harmful effects of smoking, while limiting their potential health risks and restricting access for youth.
Today is January 30, 2018. The Liberals need to speed up the passage of this bill. In 2015, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health released a report entitled “Vaping: Toward a Regulatory Framework for E-Cigarettes”. The Committee had held eight meetings and heard from 33 witnesses. The report contained 14 recommendations, including a recommendation that the Government of Canada work with all affected stakeholders to establish a new legislative framework that would set maximum levels of nicotine, among other things.
Thanks to this report, we already had all the information we needed to implement this bill. However, the Liberals waited more than two years to present us with a bill, and they tabled it in the Senate instead of the House of Commons. I will say it again: passing this bill could save lives. I hope we will be able to pass it quickly and improve it along the way.