Vaping: why is plain packaging for e-cigarettes no longer required in British Columbia?

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Opinion: British Columbia’s groundbreaking ruling requiring plain packaging for vaping products was quietly repealed last month

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In November 2019, the British Columbia Minister of Health announced dramatic measures to help children and youth avoid nicotine addiction and respiratory damage from vaping.

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In July 2020, the government passed regulations restricting the nicotine content, flavor, advertising and sale of vaping products in British Columbia. Using an almost revolutionary strategy, the government has also required that e-cigarettes be packaged in a simple manner, with the statement: “WARNING: Nicotine is highly addictive” and a mandatory skull symbol. Advocates for child and adolescent health were thrilled.

But on April 4, 2022, BC’s vaping regulations were quietly changed. Plain packaging is no longer necessary. What happened?

Plain packaging is an important step forward in the prevention of nicotine addiction. First adopted in tobacco products by Australia in 2011, plain packaging requires products to be sold in plain, uniform packages, without graphics and in one standard color, and with company information. and the producer often in a standard font. In 2019, the federal government created similar regulations for tobacco products. In January 2020, the Canadian Council of Chief Medical Officers recommended that plain packaging for tobacco products be extended to vaping products advising the federal government to “require plain and standardized packaging and risk warnings for health for all vaping products”.

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Tobacco companies hate such requirements. Unable by law to advertise their products or sponsor events, companies may view the package itself as the last available territory to differentiate their product from competing brands and promote their product to new customers who may not still be addicted to nicotine. The package is important; it can powerfully communicate the “personality” of a brand, just as cars, accessories and designer clothes communicate cues about status and character. Communicating with buyers through attractive words, images and decorations on packaging is essential for sellers.

British Columbia’s groundbreaking decision to require plain packaging for vaping products has not been well received. Weeks after BC’s initial announcement, Imperial Tobacco denounced plain packaging as “sending the wrong message to smokers” when the goal was to prevent children and young people from becoming vapers, then smokers. Even though regulations required packaging to state “the identity of the manufacturer and its principal place of business,” JUUL Labs comically claimed that “plain packaging poses a significant risk to public health by failing to provide consumers of sufficient evidence of packaging produced by reputable manufacturers.”

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Nonetheless, BC’s plain packaging regulations came into effect on August 11, 2020 and remained in effect until April 4, 2022, when the plain packaging and health warning regulations were revoked. repealed. The BC government has not hosted any known media events. Gone are the plain packaging requirements, which simply disappeared. Why?

The Canadian Vaping Association claims to be “the original voice of Canada’s burgeoning vaping industry”. Its board members are members of the vaping industry, presumably profiting from vaping products. Without any evidence that Health Canada has approved vaping products as smoking cessation devices, its president says, “We are fighting for the right of Canadian adults to unparalleled harm reduction technology. Indeed, if vaping products were such wonderfully reliable withdrawal devices, pharmacies would sell them; the packaging would not be as important as the pharmacist’s recommendation.

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  1. A man poses for a photo while vaping.

    Young people were vaping more during the pandemic and more than half shared a vape pen: study

  2. The federal government must finalize regulations restricting flavors in e-cigarettes and implement a tax on e-cigarettes, say prominent Canadian health advocates Doug Roth and Andrea Seale.

    Doug Roth and Andrea Seale: Three things government can do to build a “healthier future” for Canadian children

The Canadian Vaping Association is listed as a lobbyist in the British Columbia Lobbyist Registry, where it vaguely describes its discussions with the government: “Topics may include flavors, nicotine strengths, labeling and packaging, and taxation. »

Imperial Tobacco, which markets vaping products, has agents who are also registered as lobbyists in British Columbia. An officer signaled his intention to meet with a public office holder to influence amendments to the British Columbia Tobacco and Vapor Products Control Act, with the stated purpose (among other things) of “repealing a regulation”.

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Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which obliges signatories that pass restrictive legislation “to protect such policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” .

Contrary to industry myths, the use of vaping products can lead to smoking. Youth otherwise at low risk of smoking are now about 8.5 times more likely to become cigarette smokers if they vape. Additionally, a 2018 study from the US National Academy of Sciences found moderate evidence that vaping “increases the frequency and intensity” of later smoking.

Why was an innovative aspect of important BC legislation — designed to protect children and youth from nicotine addiction — quietly dropped? Who did this? In whose interest? Who benefits? Who will bear the consequences of this decision: the pain and suffering and the increased costs of health care?

Again, what happened?

Juliet Guichon is Associate Professor, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. April Christiansen is a health science researcher in Vancouver. Chris Carlsten is Professor and Head of Respiratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Director of Legacy for Airway Health.


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