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Health Canada ‘actively monitoring’ U.S. vaping illness breakthrough

Canadian health officials say they are closely monitoring an apparent U.S. breakthrough into the cause of a mysterious vaping illness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they have a “very strong culprit” in a chemical compound known as vitamin E acetate.

The compound was found in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the United States, as well as liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many who fell ill.

Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette says vitamin E acetate is not allowed in Canadian cannabis vaping products.

Still, he says Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are “actively monitoring the vaping illness situation.”

That includes maintaining close contact with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand their investigation.

“Health Canada will continue to monitor all available data sources and surveillance systems and will take additional action, if warranted and as appropriate, to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” Morrissette said Friday in an emailed statement.

There have been seven confirmed or probable cases of severe lung illness related to vaping in Canada.

That includes two confirmed cases in Quebec, two probable cases in New Brunswick and three probable cases in British Columbia.

U.S. officials said Friday this is the first time they’ve found a common suspect in the damaged lungs of patients.

But they cautioned they cannot rule out all other toxic substances, and it may take animal studies to clearly show vitamin E acetate causes the lung damage that’s been seen.

More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teens and young adults, and at least 40 people have died.

The first Canadian was diagnosed in Quebec in September and Health Canada has urged people who vape to watch for symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain.


U.S. endorses tobacco pouches as less risky than cigarettes

For the first time, U.S. health regulators have judged a type of smokeless tobacco to be less harmful than cigarettes, a decision that could open the door to other less risky options for smokers.

The milestone announcement last month makes Swedish Match tobacco pouches the first so-called reduced-risk tobacco product ever sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration.

FDA regulators stressed that their decision does not mean the pouches are safe, just less harmful, and that all tobacco products pose risks. The pouches will still bear mandatory government warnings that they can cause mouth cancer, gum disease and tooth loss.

But the company will be able to advertise its tobacco pouches as posing a lower risk of lung cancer, bronchitis, heart disease and other diseases than cigarettes.

The pouches of ground tobacco, called snus—Swedish for snuff and pronounced “snoose”—have been popular in Scandinavian countries for decades but are a tiny part of the U.S. tobacco market.

Users stick the teabag-like pouches between their cheek and gum to absorb nicotine. Unlike regular chewing tobacco, the liquid from snus is generally swallowed, rather than spit out. Chewing tobacco is fermented; snus goes through a steamed pasteurization process.

FDA acting commissioner Ned Sharpless said the agency based its decision on long-term, population-level data showing lower levels of lung cancer, emphysema and other smoking-related disease with the use of snus.

Sharpless added that the agency will closely monitor Swedish Match’s marketing efforts to ensure they target adult tobacco users.

“Anyone who does not currently use tobacco products, especially youth, should refrain from doing so,” he said in a statement.

Stockholm-based Swedish Match sells its snus under the brand name, General, in mint, wintergreen and other flavours. They compete against pouches from rivals Altria and R.J. Reynolds. But pouches account for just 5% of the $9.1 billion-dollar U.S. market for chew and other smokeless tobaccoproducts, according to Euromonitor market research firm.

And public health experts questioned whether U.S. smokers would be willing to switch to the niche product.

“Snus products have a bit of a challenge” among smokers who are used to inhaling their nicotine, said Vaughan Rees, director of Harvard University’s Center for Global Tobacco Control.

The U.S. smoking rate has fallen to an all-time low of 14% of adults, or roughly 34 million Americans. But smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., responsible for some 480,000 deaths annually.

The FDA’s decision has been closely watched by both public health experts and tobacco companies.

Public health experts have long hoped that alternatives like the pouches could benefit Americans who are unable or unwilling to quit cigarettes and other traditional tobacco products. Tobacco companies are looking for new products to sell as they face declining cigarette demand due to tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma.

The FDA itself also has much at stake in the review of snus and similar tobacco alternatives.

Congress gave the FDA the power to regulate key aspects of the tobacco industry in 2009, including designating new tobacco products as “modified risk,” compared with traditional cigarettes, chew and other products.

But until now, the FDA had never granted permission for any company to make such claims for its products.

The FDA is reviewing several other products vying for “reduced risk” status, including a heat-not-burn cigarette alternative made by Philip Morris International. While electronic cigarettes are generally considered less harmful than the tobacco-and-paper variety, they have not been scientifically reviewed as posing a lower risk.


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Juul halts U.S. sales of fruit, dessert flavours for e cigarettes

Juul Labs stopped selling fruit and dessert flavours Thursday, acknowledging the public’s “lack of trust” in the vaping industry.

The voluntary step is the company’s latest attempt to weather a growing political backlash that blames its flavoured-nicotine products for hooking a generation of teenagers on electronic cigarettes.

Juul, the bestselling e-cigarette brand in the U.S., has been besieged by scrutiny, including multiple investigations by Congress, federal agencies and several state attorneys general. The company is also being sued by adults and underage Juul users who claim they became addicted to nicotine through the company’s products. And the Trump administration has proposed banning nearly all vaping flavours.

Still, the company’s latest step is unlikely to satisfy its critics.

The flavours affected by the announcement – mango, creme, fruit and cucumber – account for less than 10% of Juul’s sales. The flavours had only been sold through Juul’s website, after the company pulled them from stores last November.

Juul will continue selling its most popular flavours, mint and menthol, for now. A spokesman said the company is reviewing its products and has not made “any final decisions.”

Mint and menthol account for most of Juul’s retail sales, according to analysts, and are the most popular flavours among teens.

The San Francisco-based company will also continue to sell its tobacco-flavoured vaping pods.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Matthew Myers said that Juul’s decision to keep selling mint and menthol shows “it isn’t serious about preventing youth use.”

“Juul knows that 64% of high school e-cigarette users now use mint or menthol flavours and this number is growing all the time,” Myers said in a statement.

His group and others are urging the Trump administration to follow through on its proposal to ban all vaping flavours except tobacco.

The sales concession comes less than a month after a major shake-up at the privately held firm, in which it pledged to stop advertising and agreed to not lobby against the administration’s proposed flavour ban.

“We must reset the vapour category by earning the trust of society and working co-operatively with regulators, policymakers and stakeholders,” the company’s new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, said in a statement. Crosthwaite was named CEO last month. He previously worked as an executive for Marlboro-maker Altria, which is also Juul’s biggest investor.

This week’s move marks a remarkable shift for Juul, which had argued for years that its flavours help adult smokers quit cigarettes.

But the announcement doesn’t necessarily mean the permanent end of Juul’s flavours. Instead, Crosthwaite said the company would defer to the decision of the Food and Drug Administration, which has set a deadline of next May for manufacturers to submit their vaping products for federal review.

Under the agency’s standards, only vaping products that represent a net benefit to public health are supposed to remain on the market.

If the company can show that its products are less harmful than cigarettes and can help adults switch, they could presumably return. Many experts, however, doubt the company will be able to win the FDA endorsement, given the popularity of Juul among underage users.

Underage vaping has reached epidemic levels, according to health officials. In the latest government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month despite federal law banning sales to those under 18.

While Juul agreed to stop lobbying against a flavour ban, other industry players haven’t. The Vapor Technology Association is launching a national marketing campaign aimed at stopping the White House plan by using the slogan, “I vape, I vote.”

A poll released Thursday shows that Americans narrowly favour banning the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes, although younger adults are more likely to oppose the idea.

Banning flavours is supported by 52% of adults of all ages and opposed by 44%, according to the poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. But 63% of adults ages 18 to 29 oppose banning the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes.

The poll involved random calls to the cellphones and landlines of 1,205 adults and was conducted Oct. 3-8. The margin of sampling error for all respondents was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In a separate public health crisis, the federal government is investigating nearly 1,500 cases of lung damage linked to vaping, some of them fatal. Many patients said they vaped THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical, with bootleg devices, but officials have not yet implicated any common product or ingredient.


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Dollarama says protracted trade war will hamper ability to find new products

UnknownA protracted trade war between the United States and China could make it more challenging for Dollarama Inc. to find new products that appeal to its customers’ desire to hunt for “treasures,” the discount retailer’s CEO said Sept. 12.

Chinese factories are on standby and not creating new moulds or putting money into research and development on products destined for the U.S. market because of the trade instability, Neil Rossy said during a conference call about it’s second-quarter results.

“And that has an impact on the retailers of the balance of the world, whether its Europe or Canada or everywhere else, because we all benefit from each other’s creativity and productivity,” he said.

“When world markets are having a harder time, there’s less creativity and so that makes the buyers’ jobs on a sourcing front, whether domestic or abroad, more challenging.”

Rossy said retailers prefer a stable environment, but can manage if the impasse lasts only a short while.

“It’s still very stable and I don’t foresee there being any really big challenges unless it goes on for a year plus.”

The comments came as the Montreal-based retailer reported a profit of $143.2 million in its latest quarter as its sales grew nine per cent compared with a year ago.

Its profit amounted to 45 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Aug. 4, compared with a profit of $140.4 million or 42 cents per diluted share a year ago.

Sales totalled $946.4 million, up from $868.5 million.

Comparable store sales grew 4.7%. That outpaced last year’s sales growth of 2.6% for existing stores as the company focused its merchandise strategies on enhancing revenues, Rossy told analysts.

“We are very focused on stimulating traffic and increasing basket size and are pleased with consumer response to date,” he said, adding that consumer surveys support that its offering and concept resonates.

Rossy said Dollarama has been expanding its product offering where possible and updating selection all the time. It offers more than 4,000 year-round products and more than 700 seasonal ones.

Analysts, on average, had expected a profit of 46 cents per share and revenue of $939.2 million, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

In its outlook, Dollarama raised its guidance for comparable store sales growth for the full year to a range of 3.5% to 4.5% compared with earlier expectations for between 3.0 and 4.0%.

However, the retailer said its gross margins are expected to come in at the low end of its earlier guidance at 43.25 to 43.75%, compared with earlier expectations for between 43.25 and 44.25%.

Dollarama operates 1,250 stores across Canada and expects to grow its network to 1,700 locations by 2027.

It recently exercised its option to purchase a majority stake in Dollarcity for an estimated US$85 million to US$95 million. A total of US$40 million was paid last month with the rest to be handed over next year, subject to final adjustments.

“This truly marks the beginning of a new phase in Dollarama’s growth trajectory by establishing a second growth platform in Latin America in complement to our existing Canadian growth strategy,” Rossy said.

Dollarcity has 192 stores in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala. It expects to add up to 50 this year and expand its network to 600 locations by 2029.


Mint, menthol: Vape industry has dug heels in on flavour bans

Efforts to ban flavoured e-cigarettes and reduce their appeal to youngsters in the United States have sputtered under industry pressure in over a half-dozen states this year even as one state, Michigan, moves ahead with its own restrictions and President Donald Trump promises federal ones.

In many cases, the fight by the industry and its lobbyists has focused on leaving the most popular flavours – mint and its close cousin, menthol – alone. But public health experts say that all flavours should be banned, and that menthol can still hook kids on vaping.

The proposal Trump outlined Sept. 11, which would supersede any state inaction, includes a ban on mint and menthol, and an industry giant quickly indicated it would capitulate.

“We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavoured products,” read a statement released by Juul Labs Inc. “We will fully comply with the final FDA policy when effective.”

But the fight in state legislatures has been fierce. Lobbyists for the vaping and tobacco industry fought bans on flavours in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Massachusetts, New York, Maine and Connecticut.

Such bans failed or stalled, even as Michigan’s governor this month ordered emergency rules prohibiting flavoured e-cigarettes. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed a desire to ban flavoured e-cigarettes.

Trump’s federal proposal, as it stands, would require no congressional approval, meaning lobbying efforts to defeat it could be less effective than in state legislatures. Juul spent $1.9 million in the first half of the year to try and sway the White House, Congress and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Vapor Technology Association has reported spending $78,000 this year in its lobbying fight against California’s proposed flavoured e-cigarettes ban, while one of the world’s largest tobacco producers, Altria, reported spending over $100,000 last fall solely to lobby such legislation. The bills have since stalled.

Reynolds American, which sells Vuse Alto e-cigarettes, reported spending $240,000 on paid lobbyists in New York this year. At least $23,000 alone went to fund their lobbying push against a flavoured tobacco ban that failed to pass this year.

Altria, which is also Juul’s biggest investor, also spent over $70,000 in Maine alone this spring on an online social media and email campaign in its efforts to defeat a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes and all tobacco products, according to lobbying reports filed with state ethics officials. Maine still has no flavour ban.

The global e-cigarette and vape market was valued at as much as $11 billion in 2018. The rise in teen vaping has been driven mainly by flavoured cartridge-based products such as Juul, which controls roughly three-quarters of the U.S. e-cigarettes market.

The proposals and the lobbying fight come as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified, though many cases involve marijuana vaping.

Supporters of flavours argue that adult cigarette users say flavours helped them quit, and that legislators should instead focus on companies that are trying to hook young nonsmokers with clearly kid-friendly marketing and packaging.

“One of the things that we are finding is that state legislatures are reflexively reacting to media stories and without a scientific basis making determinations that flavours are the problem so we need to get rid of all the flavours,” said Tony Abboud, president of the Vapor Technology Association.

There had been concern that the tobacco and vaping industries were winning their fight to keep at least the most popular flavours _ mint and menthol _ in play. That concern has now been tempered by Trump’s announcement that his ban would include menthol and mint.

Last November, the FDA announced plans for a crackdown that could lead to federal regulators pulling all e-cigarette flavours besides menthol and mint – thought to be useful to adult smokers – from shelves. The FDA also said it would also seek to ban menthol cigarettes.

The FDA’s announcement came just two days after Juul announced the halting of in-store sales of mango, fruit, creme and cucumber flavours in retail stores.

The company’s CEO has said that Juul never intended for young people to use their products but that they are “sensitive” to concerns raised by the FDA.

And a spokesman for Juul, Ted Kwong, said before the announcement by Trump that the company would support an outright ban on flavours that mimic kid candies, foods and drinks.

Still, in line with the FDA’s proposed policy, Juul Labs still distributes mint, menthol and tobacco flavours in retail stores. The company also sells flavoured products through its website.

Anti-tobacco and -vaping groups say there’s no scientific basis for leaving menthol or mint alone. They warn menthol has been unethically marketed toward African Americans, and that such flavours can still increase the appeal of e-cigarettes for young people who aren’t smokers by overcoming the harshness of nicotine.

“Anything that is overcoming the harshness of tobacco flavouring is something that kids are going to find more appealing,” said Hillary Schneider, director of government relations in Maine for the American Cancer Society Action Network.

But banning minty flavours has been politically contentious.

In Maine, convenience store owners upset by a proposed flavour ban argued that mint, wintergreen and menthol represent 30% of flavours offered in stores statewide and $32 million in tax revenue.

Lawmakers then considered a tweak to only allow menthol, mint and wintergreen flavours. Maine ended up passing a bill _ backed by the tobacco and vaping industries, as well as small retail stores _ that instead makes it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to people under 21 and give them to minors under 16.

Officials in Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration discussed exempting mint and menthol flavours from the e-cigarette ban, but “determined that the action taken was the best path forward to protect youth,” said Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

A court challenge is expected for Michigan’s ban.

Abboud argued before Trump’s decision that states should hold off on further action for now.