While the Convenience industry agrees with Health Canada's mandate to reduce youth vaping, Ottawa's new proposed vaping regulations aimed at reducing the level of nicotine in vapour products will stand in the way of adult smokers looking to quit, while putting unrealistic expectation on c-store operators.
In a statement, Imperial Tobaccos said the proposal "will severely hinder the federal government’s ability to reach its stated objective of reducing the smoking rate in Canada to less than 5% by 2035."
Health Canada announced Friday it is proposing to lower the maximum nicotine concentration allowed for vaping products that are manufactured or imported for sale in Canada to 20 mg/ml. The current limit is 66 mg/ml, which would remain the maximum concentration allowed for any vaping products intended for export markets. The new rules would forbid the sale of any vaping product if the nicotine concentration listed on the packaging is higher than the new limit.
“Health Canada recognizes the concept of offering reduced risk products as a way to reduce exposure to the harmful chemicals caused by smoking. In addition, it recognizes vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking,” said Eric Gagnon, VP of corporate and regulatory affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada. “It is unfortunate that the government is considering a measure that will hinder vaping products from reaching their full potential as a less harmful alternative to smoking.”
The Convenience Industry Council of Canada agreed, calling Ottawa's proposal "misguided," and said that the move will push adult users back to tobacco, or to the illegal online market. Also, adult smokers considering transition will be discouraged: CICC member sales data shows that more than 80% of convenience store customers purchase the higher nicotine content product when beginning the transition to vape.
“Canada’s convenience stores are the primary destination for adult smokers looking to make a switch to a reduced risk product," says CICC president and CEO Anne Kothawala. "Our sales data shows that smokers require sufficient nicotine concentration in order to successfully transition. Offering our customers this choice and encouraging them to make the switch is in line with Health Canada’s stated public health objective of reducing smoking rates."
Imperial Tobacco says the government acknowledges this risk when it states, “it is anticipated that the vaping industry would experience the loss of sales to adult customers who choose to discontinue using vaping products rather than transition to vaping products that contain 20 mg/mL nicotine or below.”
While it could be debated whether or not the current cap of 66 mg/ml is appropriate, said Gagnon, "he proposed 20 mg/ml is too low and will not satisfy a portion of current Canadian vapers nor smokers seeking a less harmful alternative. It is hard to understand why the government would enact a policy measure knowing full well it will drive up the number of smokers in Canada.”
Nicotine caps will not solve the youth vaping issue, adds Kothawala. "We support the government’s goal of addressing youth vaping and are proud that our channel has a proven track record of retailing age-restricted products. Convenience stores are not the problem. Reducing youth vaping requires a multi-faceted approach that clamps down on the unregulated online market and provides for stiffer penalties for any retailers selling to minors. This policy will make it more likely that youth will access higher nicotine vaping products through illegal online markets."
In addition, she says the the proposed implementation date of 15 days is "simply unworkable" for our retailers. "Previous implementation timelines have been months long – not days – which allow convenience stores to become compliant. This will impose significant costs on our industry at a time when businesses are struggling with both the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Government has already acknowledged these challenges earlier this year when they provided a six-month extension to previous vape regulations and should apply the same approach in this case. We are calling on the government to reconsider their decision to limit nicotine concentrations and to increase the implementation period for retailers.”
The government says it is also thinking about added regulatory measures that would restrict flavours in vaping products, and make the industry give more information about their products, including details on sales, ingredients and research and development.
-With files from The Canadian Press