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Vapers, smokers take a hit as N.L. budget focuses on prevention

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If you took up vaping to avoid the taxes on cigarettes, your luck just ran out.

A 20% tax on vaping products was a key feature of the Newfoundland and Labrador budget September 29, which aimed to focus as much as possible on community health and prevention.

Vaping has so far escaped the province’s sin tax net, even though research suggests the practice can present significant health risks, especially for teens and young adults.

The province also added an extra 10 cents in taxes per gram of loose tobacco and five cents per cigarette.

The budget also allocated $1.7 million for school initiatives, awareness campaigns and cessation programs to help reduce tobacco use and vaping.


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COVID-19 a boon for c-store tobacco sales

Cigarettes Generic Lg_100517With stay-at-home measures in place across the country, c-stores are experiencing an unprecedented spike in tobacco sales, in part because First Nations reserves (and their popular smoke shacks) are largely closed to outside visitors

Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, estimates that the legal tobacco business is on track to grow by 20-25% while the reserves stay closed and he’d like to see c-stores to hold on to that business once the restrictions are lifted.

However, it’s an ongoing battle and the lines are fuzzy, with many smokers not even realizing that it is often illegal to purchase cigarettes on a reserve. Many Canadians make a regular pilgrimage to stock up, but experts say it’s important people understand the difference between being in possession of legal and illegal cigarettes, as the fines are hefty.

Under the Tobacco Tax Act, unless otherwise authorized, it is illegal to buy, possess or distribute any quantity of untaxed cigarettes or any other untaxed tobacco products.

Smoke shacks unto themselves are not illegal. Indigenous Canadians living on reserve are allowed to buy tobacco products tax-free there, however non-indigenous Canadians are not legally allowed to buy any tax-exempt cigarettes.

That said, the practice is widespread, as taxes make up about 70% of the purchase price. A carton of cigarettes in a c-store costs about $120, while you can buy a carton on a reserve for about $35. While this represents a significant cost-savings to the individual, it also represents billions in lost tax revenue for society.

“Our fear is most will return to the reserves or have the underground delivery model revived post COVID-19,” says Bryans, adding he is “hoping manufacturers will work to keep the prices down, with no increases and offer levels of value brands to help c-stores retain this new customer base.”

He points to studies that show contraband accounts for 30-35% of all tobacco sales – in areas closer to reserves, that number spikes as high as 65%.
While it is hard to compete with the massive price differences between legal and illegal sales, c-stores operators have proximity and the law on their side.
Operators and their teams would be well-advised to take advantage of the current situation by getting to know customers’ and their smoking habits. Fulfilling a customer’s wants and needs in a friendly (legal) exchange, will no doubt help build and maintain those relationships and sales once travel restrictions subside and communities open up.
Educating customers is a key component in reducing illegal sales and driving smokers back to c-stores, says Bryans. “The OCSA has met with Ministry of Finance to discuss an educational component on how reserve products are illegal and hurt every community.”

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Results from Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey now include vaping

Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 3.17.42 PMEight out of 10 Canadians who are vaping are vaping nicotine, according to a new survey from Statistics Canada.

The latest annual Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey, published in March, aims to gather information about the prevalence of cigarette smoking, vaping and cannabis use.

For the first time ever, the survey included questions about vaping in an effort shed light on the types of products Canadians are using, how often they are vaping and their reasons for doing so. This report, the first to track detailed information about vaping in this country, defines it as the “act of inhaling and exhaling vapour produced by a device such as an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), vape mod, vaporizer or vape pen.”

The study recognized that “while some use these devices to curtail or to quit smoking,” it went on to point out “vaping can also have negative effects, particularly among youth.”

The report revealed that among those who had vaped in the 30 days preceding the survey, about 8 in ten indicated that they had vaped nicotine. This proportion was even higher among users aged 15 to 19 (87%) and those aged 20 to 24 (86%).

In addition, about one in 10 users aged 15 to 19 and aged 20 to 24 reported that they once tried a vaping device without knowing whether or not it contained nicotine.

Frequency of vaping also varied across age groups. Among users aged 15 to 19, 31% vaped on a daily basis, compared with 38% of those aged 20 to 24, and more than half of those aged 25 and older.

Other highlights:

  • In 2019, 15% of teenagers aged 15 to 19 reported having vaped in the 30 days preceding the survey, and over one-third (36%) reported having tried it at some point in their lives.
  • Among young adults aged 20 to 24, the proportion of those who had vaped in the 30 days preceding the survey was also 15%, and close to half (48%) said that they had tried it at some point.
  • In comparison, less than 3% of adults aged 25 and older reported using a vaping product in the 30 days preceding the survey, and 12% indicated that they had tried vaping at some point.
  • For both men and women, the proportion of those who used a vaping device in the 30 days preceding the survey was higher in younger age groups. In general, men are more likely than women to vape.

Reasons for vaping varied by age group and users were classified across the following categories: (1) those who just wanted to try; (2) those who reported enjoying it; (3) those who vaped to reduce stress; (4) those who vaped to reduce or quit smoking; and (5) those who mentioned other reasons.

Among users aged 15 to 19, the most common reasons were “because they wanted to try” (29%) and “because they enjoyed it” (29%). About one in five (21%) said that they vaped to reduce stress, while 9% said that they did so to quit or cut down on smoking.

Among those aged 20 to 24, the proportion who vaped because they wanted to quit or cut down on smoking was higher (28%). However, similar to their teenaged counterparts, more than one-quarter (27%) of users in this age group reported vaping just because they wanted to try it.

Among those aged 25 and older, by contrast, users were significantly more likely than younger users to report having vaped in an effort to reduce or quit smoking, with more than half of those aged 25 and older citing this as their main reason.

Perception of harm

Among those who had vaped in the 30 days preceding the survey:

  • 60% believed that vaping products were less harmful than cigarettes
  • 20% thought that they were similarly harmful
  • 9% felt they were more harmful, and 10% said that they did not know

Among those who had never vaped:

  • 13% perceived vaping as less harmful than cigarettes
  • 33% felt both were equally harmful
  • 23% thought that vaping was more harmful
  • 31% did not know

Ontario cuts funding to youth smoking cessation program, will close in June

Ontario has cut funding to an agency that helps young people across the province quit smoking.

The administrator of the Leave the Pack Behind program says she was informed by the Ministry of Health this month that their annual $1-million funding would not be renewed.

The agency, which operates independently but is housed out of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said 27 people will lose their jobs due to the funding cut.

The program has been in operation for 19 years and initially helped people aged 19 to 25 on six university campuses quit smoking, but has since expanded to 44 post-secondary institutions and 35 public health units

Leave the Pack Behind says it has helped 40,600 students quit smoking since 2000 by providing personalized supports, referrals to health professionals and nicotine replacement treatments.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed the funding cut but said the government continues to support other smoking cessation initiatives at the University of Ottawa and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Hayley Chazan said the government is steamlining the province’s health-care system and removing duplication.

“In doing so, we can protect and promote vital programs and ensure we spend taxpayer dollars responsibly,” she said in a statement.

Kelli-an Lawrance, a health sciences associate professor at Brock University who helped launch the program and continues to oversee it, said the cut is “devastating.”

“I have letters from young adults that say, ‘you saved my life,”’ she said. “To get the news that the funding from the program has been cut is … a real shock.”

Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, said ending the program means 19 years of experience, expertise, and relationship-building across the province is lost.

“It doesn’t make any sense to do this,” he said. “It’s just slightly over a million dollars and that is a very small amount of money for the reach and effectiveness of the program and potential cost-savings down the road.”