Skip to main content

CICC comes out against proposed legislation to remove NRTs from c-stores

Asking local candidates in upcoming St. Paul’s-Toronto byelection to stand with local business owners.
male writer Chris Daniels
Health Minister Mark Holland Canadian Press
Health Minister Mark Holland - The Canadian Press

In coalition with law enforcement experts, business owners and consumer advocacy groups, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) is swinging out against proposed federal legislation that would remove nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) – though in particular, the oral pouch therapy Zonnic—from convenience stores.

A campaign, called “Responsible Retailers, Trusted in Your Community,” launched in Ottawa on June 13, and on June 20 included a press conference in the federal riding of St. Paul’s-Toronto ahead of a June 24 byelection. The CICC is calling on all candidates in the riding “to stand with local small business owners and oppose the federal government’s proposed legislation that will hurt small business in St. Paul’s and across Canada.”

Health Minister Mark Holland has vowed to restrict potential youth access to Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Zonnic, the only oral pouch approved as a nicotine replacement therapy in Canada, by restricting the product to only behind the counter at pharmacies, thereby eliminating their sale in c-stores. The proposed law has the backing of health groups like the Heart & Stroke. Provincially, Quebec and B.C. have already restricted the sale of Zonnic to behind pharmacy counters.

Other NRT products include nicotine sprays, gums and lozenges, which are also exempt from age restriction because they contain 4 mg or less of nicotine. Zonnic pouches contain either 2 or 4 mg of nicotine each. (By comparison, a cigarette has about 10 to 12 mg.) Zonnic was approved by Health Canada in October 2023.

READ:  Health Minister Holland defends new ministerial powers to pull products off the shelves

Advertisement - article continues below

While there is no minimum age requirement to purchase, Michael Bonelli, VP, sales and commercial marketing for Imperial Tobacco Canada, says, “We set up a framework for implementing age verification measures for the sale of Zonnic, including requiring that retailers obtain proof of age before purchase and to display the products behind the counter only.”

Speaking with CSNC, CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala said preventing convenience stores from selling a Health Canada-approved smoking cessation product is “hypocritical.”

“For decades, we have been trusted to sell age-restricted products,” she says, noting the sector’s very high rate of compliance. “That’s why getting the engagement of grassroots owners and operators in communities across Canada is important. They have a clear and positive story to tell, both with the federal government, their customers and the public.”

Amyn Merchant, a franchise owner of a Circle K in the St. Paul’s area of midtown Toronto, says “I have seen many convenience stores in our community close their doors as it is getting harder and harder to stay in business. These government policies are very hurtful not only to our stores, but to the customers we serve.” He adds that “we’ve always followed the rules and ensured that age-restricted products are sold responsibly.”

Other supporters of the “Responsible Retailers” campaign include the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, grassroots-led advocacy group Consumer Choice Centre and Raf Souccar, former RCMP deputy commissioner and member of the federal task force on cannabis legalization.

“What we’re hearing [from our members] consistently is that longtime smokers are now switching to nicotine pouches, and that’s a very positive development,” notes Kothawala.

“One-third of adult smokers are getting their cessation products through the convenience store, which is where they are buying their cigarette. One of the biggest losers will be Canadians who smoke and who are looking to quit,” adds Bonelli. “It is still shocking to us that the Government of Canada is trying to put up barriers to access nicotine replacement therapies. These are products that help smokers quit smoking. They should be available where cigarettes are sold.”

In addition to lost sales, c-stores are worried about further fueling the black market for age-restricted products in their communities. “The more the legal channels are restricted, we know from experience that illegal online sales will grow,” says Kothawala. “This is a critical problem as these black-market sellers are largely to blame for youth access, as the products they sell are not age-gated.”

The CICC presented before the House of Commons Finance Committee to share their concerns about the legislation. “We are also meeting directly with opposition members and officials. The opposition agrees with us that this move is not only government overreach, but inconsistent policy,” notes Kothawala. “We continue to make a very clear case to the federal government, and the ball is now in their court to demonstrate a reasonable approach that acknowledges the trusted role of convenience stores in our communities.”

Imperial Tobacco Canada—which has launched a website,, aimed at combatting misinformation about the product —has been “actively engaging with Health Canada relating to Zonnic,” says Bonelli.

The national health policy agency has made suggestions to the company, such as making the “18+ only” graphic on Zonnic packaging bigger. “We have also given them options for future packaging,” he says. “However, we have not heard back on these suggestions.”

“We have received hundreds of testimonials from adult smokers attesting that Zonnic helped them on their quitting journey,” notes Bonelli. “This is aligned to Health Canada’s goal of reducing smoking incidence to below five percent by 2035, a goal we share.” 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds