A top Canadian doctor says Health Canada is 'asleep at the switch' when it comes to the teen vaping

An Ottawa doctor who is a Canadian expert on smoking cessation says Health Canada is doing little to stop the teen vaping epidemic.

“This is an issue that’s screaming for attention,” says Dr. Andrew Pipe, “we’re seeing a public health disaster unfold in front of our eyes. And quite frankly Health Canada has been asleep at the switch.”

Dr. Pipe has spent decades in the smoking cessation field, through his work at the Ottawa Heart Institute, has helped Canadians kick their cigarette smoking habit. He calls the new teen vaping trend in Canada “disturbing”.

“I talk to my colleagues across the country they’re telling me about entire teenage hockey teams vaping between periods in the dressing rooms.” Dr. Pipe adds, “These devices are the most sophisticated and concentrated form of nicotine on the market so within 48 to 72-hours teenagers become addicted. And thereafter, their brain is hard-wired to crave nicotine in a variety of forms throughout the course of their days. So we’re spawning a whole new generation of smokers which is sadly ironic.”

In November 2018, Health Canada added new restrictions to Canada’s Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) in hopes of cracking down on e-cigarette advertising appealing to youth. The bans include:

  • the sale and promotion of vaping products that make the product appealing to youth, such as interesting shapes or sounds;
  • the promotion of certain flavours—like candy, desserts, or soft drinks—that may be appealing to youth; and
  • product promotion by testimonials or endorsements.

Dr. Pipe calls those restrictions “naïve” going on to say, “Health Canada is standing by and as far as I’m concerned doing nothing about an issue that mandates immediate action on the part of the minister and Health Canada.”

“I want to see them regulate the product; I want to see them regulate the marketing, the advertising, and the displays, all of the same kind of principals that we use to regulate the marketing of tobacco products.”

In a statement to CTV Ottawa, a Health Canada spokesperson says:

“The Minister of Health and Health Canada are deeply concerned about youth vaping in Canada as increasing rates have been observed in the United States. The vaping market is rapidly evolving, with the regular introduction of new products into Canada. We are aware of both anecdotal information and unpublished research showing increases in the rate at which Canadian youth are trying and using vaping products.

Health Canada has the authority to implement further measures to address the potential harms of vaping. The Department will not hesitate to propose further restrictions, should they prove necessary in light of the emerging data on youth vaping. 

Canada has already established a strong regulatory framework for vaping products, with a focus on preventing uptake by youth and non-smokers. The Act includes significant restrictions to prevent uptake of vaping products by youth, including prohibiting the sale of non-prescription vaping products to persons under 18, whether or not these products contain nicotine. Online sales to youth are also prohibited. The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) has comprehensive restrictions in place on the promotion of vaping products, especially advertising appealing to youth. Some information and brand-preference advertising is permitted, as long as it is not contravention of the TVPA.

Health Canada is developing proposals for further protection measures, which would be set out in regulations. The Department also continues to work with its provincial and territorial counterparts in areas of shared jurisdiction, such as sales to youth and controls on the retail environment. 

Additionally, the Government of Canada is in the early stages of launching a youth-oriented public education campaign to increase awareness about the harms and risks associated with vaping product use for youth aged 13-18. The campaign will also equip parents and other trusted adults with tools and resources to support conversations and discussions about the health risks of vaping products for this age group.

If you are a smoker, vaping is a much less harmful source of nicotine than smoking, but the Government of Canada’s position is clear: if you don’t smoke, don’t vape.”

Dr. Pipe’s greatest concern, these teens who are now vaping will be so addicted to nicotine their bodies will crave more, and eventually evolve into smoking cigarettes. An addiction he says, Health Canada must stop before it starts, “47,000 Canadians die every year as a consequence of tobacco addiction and if 47,000 Canadians died in air crashes every year we’d be doing something about it.”