Letter: Health Canada begins to balance public communications around vaping

As I write this it is Wednesday, January 18th, the middle of “National Non-Smoking Week”.

I was pleased to see a change in Health Canada’s communications this year. Vaping is referenced as a reduced-risk option for smokers in a Statement from Health Canada on behalf of the Minister of Health, along with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. Vaping has also been added to the Quit Planner, an online tool provided by Health Canada to assist smokers in their efforts to stop using combustion-based nicotine products.

From the Health Canada Statement published on January 16th, 2023: “Moreover, evidence suggests that while vaping products are not harmless, vaping exposes people who smoke to lower levels of harmful chemicals than continuing to smoke.”

This might not seem like a strong statement. The scientific evidence would certainly support stronger wording, as has been used in other regions such as England and New Zealand where vaping is a recognized tool in their smoking reduction plans, but it is factual, and it is targeted at the appropriate audience.

When it comes to the Health Canada Quit Planner tool, my pleasure is not just that vaping has been added as an option, but the reason it was added as explained in the footnotes at the bottom of the page: “While vaping products have not yet been approved as quit smoking aids in Canada under the Foods and Drugs Act, adults have legal access to these commercial products as a less harmful alternative to smoking. Studies suggest that vaping nicotine may help a greater proportion of people quit smoking than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or counseling alone.”

This refers to a report by the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. A group of academics who review scientific studies. Cochrane is well respected for assessing the quality of scientific evidence, and while they are largely unknown to the public, they are “heavyweights” among policymakers and academics.

Before this week, the focus of public messaging from Health Canada on vaping was on risk to youth and non-smokers; often to the exclusion of the positive impact that vaping can have on Canada’s smoking population. I am glad to see that Canadian smokers are now beginning to be included in the conversation. There is room, and a need, for both message streams in health-related communications if Canada truly wants to achieve its stated goal of a less than 5% smoking rate by 2035.

The statement from the Ministers can be found at:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/news/2023/01/statement-from-the-minister-of-health-and-the-minister-of-mental-health-and-addictions-and-associate-minister-of-health-on-national-non-smoking-week.html

For those looking for help in planning to quit smoking, the Quit Planner can be found at:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/campaigns/quit-smoking/planner.html

Thomas Kirsop

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1 Comment

  1. Bravo! Adult Canadians who smoke have been forgotten in the past few years; the focus of Public Health has been on responding to youth vaping by making vaping seem more dangerous than scientific research shows it is and by removing some of the attributes that make it an attractive alternative to smoking. Threats of a flavour ban, the new excise tax and even the nicotine level cap are all factors that can deter smokers from switching to a much safer practice.
    The thousands of Canadian adults who have thrown away their cigarettes because they had the courage to try vaping now have some hope that Canadian authorities will listen to their lived experience.

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