Subscriber Survey

Health Canada should ban flavoured vaping products, subscribers say

A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York. AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

Health Canada should ban flavoured vaping cartridges or pods, The Logic’s subscribers say. 

Over 70 per cent of subscribers agreed with the statement in a January survey; 57 per cent said they strongly agreed, and 14 per cent said they somewhat agreed.

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The results are from The Logic’s January 2020 subscriber survey. A private link was sent to subscribers by email and the survey was conducted online. All respondents were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. For this survey, they were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Health Canada should ban flavoured vaping cartridges or pods.” Their choices were: strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, neither disagree nor agree, somewhat agree, strongly agree.

“I accept that people are going to try new things. At the same time, until the health hazards are understood, [there] is no need to wrap health experiments in tasty marketing,” one respondent wrote. 

Flavoured vaping products have faced controversy over the past year amid reports that they attract young people who otherwise would not smoke cigarettes, as well as an uptick of people diagnosed with a vaping-associated lung illness: there have been 2,758 hospitalized cases reported in the U.S., of whom 64 have died, and 17 cases in Canada, with no deaths reported. The exact cause of the disease hasn’t been identified, though in many cases in the U.S., patients were using black-market cannabis vapes containing vitamin E acetate.

Nonetheless, the issues have led to calls for regulation or outright bans on vaping, and on flavoured products in particular. In January, the U.S. announced a nationwide ban of most flavoured e-cigarettes, exempting menthol and tobacco varieties. While Canada hasn’t yet implemented anything federally—Health Canada is reviewing the results of a consultation held last year—some provinces, including Nova Scotia and B.C., are enacting their own regulations. 

Several subscribers echoed that sentiment. One said, “These products provide no positive benefit and carry multiple risks for young people. I’d be glad to see Health Canada shut the whole scene down.”

“Health issues are known, and marketing to children is egregious,” wrote another. 

The regulatory measures have impacted vaping industry leader Juul, the San Francisco-based vaping startup once valued at US$38 billion and known for its pods in flavours like cucumber, mango and vanilla. The tobacco giant Altria, which owns Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA, paid US$12.8 billion for a 35 per cent stake in Juul in 2018; it’s since written down that investment twice, now valuing its share at US$4.2 billion.

Despite branding itself as an alternative for adults trying to quit smoking cigarettes, Juul has faced accusations of advertising to youth, with flavours being an integral part of that appeal.

The company has tried to preempt regulation, suspending the sales of most of its flavoured products in both the U.S. and Canada ahead of government bans. But it’s shed tens of billions of dollars in value over the last year, resulting in hundreds of layoffs and internal chaos

However, some of The Logic’s subscribers still saw value in vaping as an alternative to cigarettes and proposed less sweeping action, though many still agreed with banning flavours. Seventeen per cent disagreed with a full ban on flavoured products, while 11 per cent said they didn’t agree or disagree.

“The primary use for [vaping] products should be as a harm reduction tool for smokers attempting to quit,” wrote a respondent. “Flavouring provides an important aspect of the appeal and marketability of vaping products to individuals who do not already smoke. In this context, a ban on flavoured [products] is reasonable from a public health perspective.”

Another said, “The producers of this product claim that its purpose is to help smokers quit. We should take them at their word. Allow them only to market as they would a medicine or medical device. Allow distribution only through pharmacies to people with a prescription…. Cut out the elements of the product that appeal to [teenagers].”

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Many mentioned that an outright ban in Canada could force users to seek out potentially harmful alternatives: it’d be an “open field for illegal, unregulated flavoured vapes,” one subscriber said.

“Banning products does not eliminate the products, just makes them somewhat harder to acquire. If it’s illegal, make it so with a law that is enforceable,” said a different respondent.

Continue the conversation on The Logic Council, our subscriber-only Slack channel.