If Health Canada has its way, this year vaping will be dealt three knockout blows that will see, not just the end of the business as we know it, but an increase in smoking-related deaths nation-wide, says Ian Irvine, a professor of economics at Concordia University.
Ottawa is recalibrating the delicate equilibrium between harm reduction and youth use of nicotine. It plans to introduce a mandatory limit on nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes and to ban most flavours. Maximum permissible content is currently at 66 milligrams per millilitre; the new limit will be 20. Eventually, we will see strike three: excise taxes.
Harm reduction tries to induce smokers to switch to nicotine products with greatly reduced toxins, particularly if they are habituated or even addicted to nicotine. Public Health England has repeatedly stated that the toxins in e-cigs are at most five per cent of those in regular cigarettes. The toxins that cause cancer come from the burning of tobacco at 700 degrees Celsius. But vaping devices heat rather than burn. Nicotine is not the health demon. It does cause habituation. But it’s the burning that shortens lives.
In an article for the Regina Leader-Post, Irvin explains that e-cigarettes are not harmless. The health problem vaping poses is that between five and 10 per cent of teens are regular vapers and nicotine is bad for the developing brain. But while a pack-a-day smoker will on average lose 10 years of life, an equally indulgent vaper might lose just one. Most adults who drink moderately, gamble, like sugar too much, or exercise insufficiently might think one year off a normal lifespan a reasonable price to pay to indulge a passion or need.
As for adult smokers, people considering a transition from smoking to vaping require a product yielding enough nicotine to satisfy their craving. Many potential switchers will not make the transition — and will end up dying prematurely — if they cannot get a strong enough nicotine substitute for their cigarettes. Canada has about 40,000 smoking-related deaths per year, so if even a small percentage of smokers don’t transition because of insufficient nicotine, that will mean thousands more deaths annually.
If Health Canada succeeds in introducing both a nicotine cap and a flavour ban on vaping, smoking rates will continue to be higher than necessary and many thousands of unnecessary deaths will folllow.