Pipe: Ontario, we're failing our kids with the marketing of vaping products
ANDREW PIPE Updated: April 15, 2019
As a clinician and researcher in the field of tobacco control, what I see happening with vaping marketing and promotion is déjà vû of the very worst kind. It is pervasive and insidious, and here in Ontario, we are failing our youth by permitting it.
Over the last 30 years, we have fought many policy battles with the tobacco industry. We have made excellent progress in the overall war against chronic disease, premature death, addiction and health-care costs that go hand-in-hand with the sale of their products. Now, with vaping products, Big Tobacco is wielding a sinister new weapon in its marketing arsenal, and here in Ontario, we have mounted no defence whatsoever.
To the contrary, Ontario is the only province that has legislation allowing the ubiquitous promotion of vaping products in retail settings frequented by kids, including gas stations and convenience stores. We are the only province that has sanctioned the normalization of nicotine products to a new generation of young people – the first generation that was raised in a society free of tobacco advertising and that is ironically and mistakenly convinced that it can vape without any health consequence.
Big Tobacco is wielding a sinister new weapon in its marketing arsenal, and here in Ontario, we have mounted no defence whatsoever.
To support that misconception, myths have been spread that we don’t have much evidence about the consequences of vaping, and that what we do have has shown that it is much less harmful than smoking.
Here’s what we know: Juul, the product most popular with kids, has as much nicotine in one pod as there is in an entire pack of cigarettes. Portrayed as a benign alternative to conventional products, Juul is actually an incredibly effective nicotine delivery system, with predictable consequences for kids who are particularly vulnerable to the kind of marketing that studies indicate has been carefully targeted at them.
Nicotine remains one of the most addictive drugs available, and we know that it hurts developing bodies and brains. Our kids, unknowingly, are being addicted to nicotine, just like our parents were in the 1950s and ’60s.
Emerging research indicates the elevated risk of heart attack by people who vape daily is not much less than that of smokers. There is also evidence demonstrating that vaping causes increased risk of chronic bronchitis in kids as young as grade 11 students.
Studies have also shown that kids who vape are four times more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes, a finding that flies in the face of the tobacco industry’s assertions that vapes are meant to reduce smoking.
Recently, media have examined the very close relationship between the Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) and the Ontario government. In fact, the OCSA recently hosted the Treasury Board president at a gala sponsored by Juul, creating a cosy opportunity for our senior policymakers to meet with the executives who are profiting by addicting skyrocketing numbers of our kids.
It should go without saying that a policy with such a tremendous impact on public health in our province must be driven by sound evidence based on research and experience gained through decades of tobacco control efforts. The widespread and legislated promotion of vape products – unique to Ontario – does not clear this bar.
We will live to regret the decisions being made right now to permit unfettered marketing of vaping products to our kids. We are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts, who will go on to fight their addiction and feed it, by both vaping and smoking, as have generations of smokers before them.
As the evidence mounts over the next few years, perhaps no one will regret this open-door policy more than the current government in Ontario, which will need to answer to these kids – and their parents – about why they weren’t protected, when we knew better.
Andrew Pipe, CM, MD, FRCSPC (Hon) is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and Chair, Board of Directors for Heart & Stroke.