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Canadian health officials on alert after reports of vaping illnesses in the U.S.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says he and colleagues across Canada have increased their vigilance as American health officials investigate nearly 200 cases of severe respiratory illnesses potentially linked to vaping.

Dr. Robert Strang said surveillance is being strengthened and he is sending informal email inquiries to respiratory specialists and intensive care units at Nova Scotia hospitals to see if there are any similar cases.

“It’s premature to say that these (U.S. cases) are absolutely caused by vaping, but the links are very concerning,” Strang said in an interview. “We are well aware of the broader issue, and I’m certainly involved in the national conversations … around what more do we need to do to strengthen our approach to vaping.”

As of late last month, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 193 people in 22 states had contracted severe respiratory illnesses after vaping.

But they stressed that a clear-cut common cause of the illnesses hadn’t been identified and that they were being classified as “potential cases still under investigation.”

Strang, who has long been outspoken about the potential dangers posed by e-cigarettes and vaping products, said Health Canada was already looking at strengthening its regulations before the U.S. health scare began in June.

He said health officials are collaborating on draft regulations that would strengthen protections for youth, in particular. Provincial regulations are also being examined to see if they can be beefed up.

“This new (U.S.) evidence raises the importance and the urgency of that work while we wait for more definitive information to come,” Strang said.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada confirm they are monitoring the recent U.S. clusters of acute pulmonary illnesses reportedly linked to the use of vaping products, which have led to one death.

Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for the two agencies, said Canadian health officials have not yet seen any evidence of similar clusters occurring in Canada.

Durette said in a statement that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are in close contact with counterparts in the United States, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to “better understand” the investigation into the illnesses.

“The Government of Canada will continue to monitor all available data sources for indications of similar issues in Canada and will take action, as appropriate, to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” the statement said.

Dr. Andrew Pipe, a clinician with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, believes similar cases will be detected in Canada now that Canadian doctors are aware of the problems that have surfaced south of the border.

An expert on smoking cessation, Pipe said the situation also underscores the need for “thoughtful and forceful” regulation of vaping products and their marketing in Canada.

Pipe said there is currently an epidemic of youth vaping in Canada that coincides with an increase in youth and adolescent smoking rates for the first time in more than three decades. He said regulations need to focus on advertising to youth, and there need to be controls on the nature of vaping devices and the amount of nicotine they contain.

“The world does not need candy floss peach-flavoured e-juice,” Pipe said. “We need to adopt the same kind of regulations for marketing and advertising as far as youth are concerned that we do for tobacco products.”

Nova Scotia’s was one of the first provinces to introduce regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19 and banning in-store advertising, but Strang said there could be further tightening.

He said online sales still pose a challenge, and he is concerned by reports that teens are able to purchase from vape stores. “Clearly we have some work to do around making sure that licensed vape stores are not selling to minors,” Strang said.

A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet found that the prevalence of vaping among 16- to 19-year-olds had increased in Canada and the U.S. between 2017 and 2018, as did smoking in Canada.

And although vaping is likely a less harmful mode of nicotine delivery than cigarettes, the study said “long-term exposure to e-cigarette vapour might cause nicotine dependence and increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular health effects.”

Strang said that amounts to a call to action.

“If you are not smoking or vaping, you are putting your health at risk by starting to vape,” he said. “We need to get that message out there much more strongly.”


Canada, California plan to work together to make cleaner cars, cut emissions

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna signed a vehicle-emissions agreement with California Wednesday that the state’s governor and auto industry experts see as a signal that Canada is going to side with California in a U.S. dispute over emissions standards.

The agreement is aimed at harmonizing efforts to cut pollution from cars and pickup trucks, including emissions standards, accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles and collaborating to make fuels that are used burned more cleanly.

“In terms of Canada, 25% of our carbon pollution comes from transportation,” McKenna said. “To change that we need cleaner cars. Working with California is a way forward.”

The agreement comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing to roll back emissions standards set by former president Barack Obama. Trump’s plan would take away California’s long-standing legal authority to go its own route on vehicle emissions. California is pushing back hard against those changes, including in court, and Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated Wednesday California has no intention of backing away from that fight.

The Obama standards would have required vehicles to become more fuel-efficient every year between 2017 and 2025, so that by the end of the period, cars and trucks would burn 50% less gasoline and emit 50% less carbon dioxide.

Trump intends to freeze the standards at 2020 levels.

Canada has long harmonized its vehicle emissions standards with the United States, both an economic and environmental necessity born of the deep integration of the U.S. and Canadian auto industries. When Trump said last year he intended to roll back the targets, Canada launched its own review of the emissions plan.

McKenna indicated Wednesday Canada isn’t likely to announce its plans for vehicle emissions standards until after the White House makes its final decision on the matter. She said the ideal result would be for the U.S. to continue with one national standard but acknowledged right now it looks as though there will be two _ one national standard and one followed by California and at least 13 other states that have joined California’s fight.

If that happens, Canada is leaning towards California.

“If there are two choices in the U.S. our focus is about how do we get meaningful cuts to climate pollution,” McKenna said.

Newsom and California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols perceive the agreement with Canada that way. The two joined a news conference call with McKenna Wednesday, in which Newsom said the agreement “reinforces our efforts and reinforces our commitment and resolve” to push on with the Obama standards.

Nichols indicated the agreement will even help in the battle with Washington.

“The auto industry is looking for leadership here and having Canada signalling that it is in general alignment with us on these issues can only be helpful in this broader debate,” she said.

But Canadian auto-industry officials warn McKenna not to be so hasty. They say picking a side in this fight will undermine the work of negotiating the auto chapter in the new North American free-trade agreement.

Huw Williams, director of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, said the agreement with California is “premature.”

“Canada should focus on one standard in the U.S. as opposed to looking like the 51st state,” he said.

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, said the biggest environmental and economic benefit to Canada will be to align with a single national standard in the United States. He said Canada should be pressuring California and the U.S. federal government to resume their talks to keep a single standard rather than throwing its eggs into California’s basket.

“We have to ask ourselves why would want to support a bifurcated market or standard for vehicle emissions,” he said. “We spent just two years negotiating the new NAFTA, which is really designed to reinforce the integrated economies.”

Nantais, whose association represents the Canadian arms of Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, said if the U.S. splits its standard and Canada picks a side, it could raise prices of vehicles here or limit available car models as companies simply refuse to produce cars that meet Canada’s and California’s demands.

McKenna and Newsom both stressed that together, the economies of Canada, California and the other 13 states represent at least half the auto market in North America, giving weight to their joint efforts.


ID please: Here’s what c-store operators need to know about vaping regulations

Buy-marijuana-or-weed-18-years-old-under-21Although Health Canada acknowledges that vaping is less harmful than smoking, the country’s national health overseer also has serious concerns about e-cigarettes and related products. With that in mind, there are a number or rules and regulations c-store operators should keep top of mind.

According to Health Canada, vaping can lead to nicotine addiction, it can cause lung damage, and the long-term impacts remain unknown.

This leads to concerns about the appeal of vaping for young people, a concern manufacturers take seriously. “Our position is very simple: just as we believe that youth should not smoke, we agree that youth should not vape,” says Eric Gagnon, head of corporate affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada. “We support measures that prevent under-age access to vapour products.”

Rob Colucci, Fontem Canada – blu Vapour, adds, “We recognize that much work needs to be done in striking an appropriate balance between ensuring no youth uptake of vaping products while ensuring sufficient communication with adult smokers is allowed so as to encourage them to switch out of tobacco.

“Fontem Canada – blu Vapour shares Health Canada’s concerns about the increase in vaping product use by youth and agrees that youth access to vaping products and the inducement to use them is a serious and legitimate concern. Accordingly, we strongly support government regulatory initiatives aimed at preventing vaping products to be targeted at youth in Canada and around the world.”

Most vaping regulations are provincial and vary across the country, although generally there is a concerted effort to protect younger people from e-cigarettes and related products. Federally, the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, which became law on May 23, 2018, protects youth from nicotine addiction and from incentives to use tobacco and vaping products. It allows adults to access vaping products as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

The act creates a national minimum age of access for vaping products: 18 years. It also includes significant restrictions on the promotion of vaping products, such as bans on:

  • advertising that appeals to youth;
  • lifestyle advertising;
  • sponsorship promotion; and
  • giveaways of vaping products or branded merchandise.

Additional restrictions under the legislation came into force late last year. These include bans on:

  • the sale and promotion of vaping products that make the product appealing to youth, such as interesting shapes or sounds;
  • the promotion of certain flavours — like candy, desserts, or soft drinks — that may be appealing to youth; and
  • product promotion by testimonials or endorsements.

Industry reacts to Health Canada plain packaging rules for tobacco

Canadian cigarette packs will have to be plain drab brown with standardized layouts and lettering under new rules that start this fall, Health Canada says.

The government says plain packages will increase the impact of graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking, keeping them from getting lost amid colourful designs and branding.

Health Canada says plain packages will increase the impact of graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking.

Manufacturers will have to begin complying with labelling rules for packages and dimensions for cigarettes by Nov. 9, 2019, while retailers will have to sell only products meeting the new rules by Feb. 7, 2020.

Officials said plain packages will increase the impact of graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking, keeping them from getting lost amid colourful designs and branding.

The government wants to stop cigarette companies from using their packs as tiny ads for their products, insisting even on a single shape and design for the packs themselves – meaning soft packs are out, as are creative designs with bevelled edges and any other distinctive features.

Health Canada picked the same dark brown for the packages as Australia did for its tobacco products a few years ago, one identified by market researchers as the ugliest colour in the world. Several European countries have used the colour as well.

“Packages with darker colours were perceived to be more ‘harmful to health’ and their products ‘harder to quit,’ in contrast to packages with lighter colours,” the department said in a summary of the plans.

Health Canada said there could be a shortage of the new packs in the early going as a very limited number of suppliers retool to make just one design instead of many different ones.

The regulations released May 1 also standardize the size and appearance of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products inside the packages.

Specific rules have been awaited since Parliament passed a law requiring them last fall, joining 13 other countries that have adopted similar measures.

The new rules are part of a larger strategy aimed at driving the rate of tobacco use among Canadians down to five per cent by 2035. Federal statistics show that in 2017, 18 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 said they used tobacco in the previous month, an increase of 15% from 2015.

The Canadian Cancer Society praised the government’s regulations, calling them “the best and most comprehensive in the world.”

On the flip side, the industry association representing convenience stores said plain packaging increases the appeal of contraband tobacco products and makes them harder to distinguish from legally marketed ones.

“Instead of addressing the 20% of tobacco that is sold illegally in Canada, government is adding one more burden to law-abiding retailers who don’t sell to minors, comply with display bans, and partner with government to collect and remit most of the $9 billion in tobacco tax revenue every year,” Anne Kothawala, president of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, said in a statement.

Representatives from the Ontario Korean Businessmen’s Association agree, saying the new rules will hurt small businesses.

“The only way the government can guarantee this will occur is if the law is applied equally to all products being sold and purchased in Canada, including the up to 40 percent of illegal tobacco consumed in Ontario today. To date, this government has shown no willingness to crack down on illegal manufacturers,” stated OKBA spokesperson Kenny Shim. “The booming black market of illegal, unregulated, and untaxed products not only leads to a loss in market share for our members – it also leads to a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in government revenue, contributes to the funding of organized crime, and further compromises Canadian public health by introducing unregulated products to the market.”

The convenience industry has long advocated that plain packaging is not an effective tool to reduce smoking. In its recent eNewsletter, CICC stated: “We were successful in one key area: standardized packaging (slide and shell) will not happen for another 24 months for manufacturers, with retailers being given an additional three-month transition period to comply. On plain packaging, a few technical issues arose out of last week’s regulations that the CICC is working to clarify. We will be providing comprehensive information to both wholesalers and retailers in the coming weeks to help prepare them for this significant policy change.”

With files from Michelle Warren