Ottawa's misguided approach to e-cigarettes -

Ottawa’s misguided approach to e-cigarettes

Colby Cosh on why the government needs to take a deep breath

Why Ottawa needs to take a deep breath

Ina Fassbender/Reuters

I had cigarettes licked once. One day in the autumn of 2008, I went to a local clinic complaining of a persistent low-grade headache and, within a matter of a few confusing hours, I was looking at a CT scan of my very own bouncing-baby brain hemorrhage. A CT scan isn’t very compelling: it’s all white and grey blurs. The MRI photo taken later was much more impressive, a true wonder. In that photo, it looked as though I had inhaled a medium-sized cashew into the left lateral ventricle of my brain.

It was literally a small but urgent crisis, one requiring a few days of bed rest and groovy chill-out drugs while the doctors and nurses battled my blood pressure. When I left the hospital, I actually got less of a lecture about smoking than one does at a typical checkup. But it occurred to me that I had already been chemically quick-marched through the hardest part of quitting nicotine. It seemed like both hint and opportunity. For the first and only time since I took them up, I decided to try living without cigarettes.

Any writer-smoker can guess what came next. The first time I tried to rap out a column, I was helpless. Ideas for material receded beyond the fixed stars. Finishing a complete sentence was out of the question. One shopping trip later, I was smoking—and writing. I’m smoking right now. I call cigarettes “idea sticks” and I am as serious as a bullet about that. With them, I’m voluble and useful. Without them, I’m a slow-tongued, ham-thumbed mass of flesh whose most marketable abilities involve party tricks. Nicotine is a business input to me, as essential as drilling mud is to an oil well. I should probably be able to deduct it from my taxes.

Instead, my government wants to kill me. Or so I infer from its attitude toward “electronic cigarettes,” the trendy new devices that can deliver inhaled nicotine without the tar and other carcinogens that come with the consumption of a traditional idea stick. E-cigarettes are poorly tested alternatives to a device that is often fatal when used as directed, which suggests that regulation might have meagre benefit at best. But Health Canada has unconditionally forbidden the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine, and Canada Customs seizes nicotine cartridges when people are caught ordering them from abroad.

Here’s how the Canadian Press summarizes the logic: “Some experts worry that because they can deliver nicotine, e-cigarettes could perpetuate addictions in current smokers rather than helping them phase out their habit. They fear the tobacco industry is trying to find a replacement nicotine-delivery system.” (Sorry to interrupt, but why don’t we want the industry to find one?) It has been trying for a long time, but regulators have generally chosen to punish this instinct, instead of permitting, or even helping, the evil tobacco companies to come up with a less evil business model.

Nicotine, as such, is responsible for an unmeasurably small fraction of the deaths and disease caused by cigarettes. You can confirm this for yourself by looking into the research on nicotine patches and chewing gums. Health Canada has no problem with those. But like zillions of other addicts, I found existing nicotine-replacement nostrums hopeless as substitutes for the effects of a genuine cigarette, and scholars acknowledge that they have been a public-health disappointment.

Nicotine, when inhaled, is “biphasic,” having opposite effects on the nervous system, depending on how it is drawn into the lungs. An experienced smoker is unconsciously, almost magically, regulating his own mood with every breath. This trick cannot be performed with gum and patches. If it could, cigarettes might already be a quaint memory, instead of a continuing daily habit for four million Canadians.

I am not likely to give up cigarettes just because a potentially far safer and more effective alternative is withheld like dinner from a misbehaving child. I am limiting my tobacco intake, and watching my health better than I did in my 30s, but I’m not kidding myself. There is a lot we do not know about e-cigarettes, and because industrial providers have been discouraged from experimenting with them, manufacturing standards vary like crazy. I, for one, am willing to give them a try. I hope I don’t die waiting for permission.


Ottawa’s misguided approach to e-cigarettes

  1. There is actually a paralell to Insite here, because this is merely about harm reduction rather than treatment, the government doesn’t like it.

    • No there isn’t. Injecting drugs is harmful, regardless of whether it is supervised.

      Electronic cigarettes are not known to be harmful.

      There is no parallel.

      • It’s called harm reduction, not harm elimination.

        • I know. Do you have a point?

          • Supervised drug injection with clean needles and easier access to rehab is certainly reducing harm compared to unsupervised drug injection with dirty needles and no access to rehab. So there’s that.

          • There is not one single report that points to e-cigarettes being harmful. Their liquid consists of 1) propylene glycol (used in foods and “smoke machines in theater, “Generally Considered Safe” by the FDA) 2) optionally food grade flavoring and 3) OPTIONAL nicotine. Nicotine is much like the caffeine in your coffee when removed from the carcinogens in cigarettes smoke. Again, nicotine is OPTIONAL in e-cigarettes making them 110% safe. As safe as eating a flavored food in the presence of a fog machine.

          • A junkie who never catches a disease will live well into his 70s.

      • “Injecting drugs is harmful…” Tying ones shoes is harmful. e-Cigarettes are also harmful.

        The question is how harmful, and the answer to all three is “not very harmful at all”. There is also no parallel ‘required’ : The issues are completely identical.

        What I find interesting however recently with this e-cig revolution is watching people who are smokers and who have switched to e-cigs which are massively safer (I use them) but who oppose harm reduction for other addictions try to reconcile their conflicting/dissonant beliefs when non-smokers treat their feeling that harm reduction for smokers is a scam in the same way they traditionally feel that harm-reduction for ‘other’ addicts is a scam, since ‘drugs are illegal’ (as if they were illegal FIRST, then they became worse than alcohol or tobacco in society somehow LOL).

        People always believe their problems are a medical issue and other’s are a moral failing. It’s a central tenet of centre-right politics aka Maclean’sLand yet what is interesting is that usually the safe-injection crowd and the mandatory-minimum crowd are so far apart they never have to meet in the middle and resolve anything, until now: people are quitting smoking using e-cigs and feeling healthy, and are baffled when non-smokers aren’t impressed or won’t support Tobacco Harm Reduction.

        The recreational abuse of high-powered narcotics is, of course, an extremely risky thing to do, supervised or not, and we can and should be careful to not send a message otherwise. However, all too often we lie, exaggerate, bury good data, and pass senseless, reflexive laws and prohibitions and justify it as an acceptable means to a desired end, despite the fact that such ends have never been reached, nor has any progress ever been made (addiction rates are still higher than they were before the passing of legislation removing Bayer heroin and a couple dozen tinctures of morphine and cocaine from your local grocer’s off-the-shelf medications aisle) towards the original idea behind criminalizing drugs.

        We cannot solve a medical disease by making the disease illegal or pretending that in a free society with protected rights and freedoms, we can control access to a product which people want to use and which some will abuse. It is a fair argument to make to see that all ‘recreational’ abuse of hard drugs is abuse, however it is a moot one: criminalization hasn’t and won’t stop it’s (ab)use by those who wish to do so, so should-and-shouldn’t is of little value when it comes to can and can’t.

        We have options, however, as a society, and what is standing in the way of minimizing the occurance, severity, and cost of addiction is access to, and discussion of, the truth, including the data available after a century of experience with this issue.

        There are those, however, who refuse to admit defeat or assimilate any new information, or who have politically attached theirs careers to an ‘anti-addiction’ platform, who have profited from the real information never being looked at, that information all pointing to the conclusion that addiction cannot be “illegalized” away: that it was a good idea, but it simply didn’t work, time to move on now and get real.

        Unfortunately, those people and their supporters, many of whom have publicly supported and included as policy and moral platforms to great effect their ideas regarding prohibition/criminalization argument about ‘harm reduction’ enabling / increasing / prolonging / normalizing addiction, are attached now to the issue personally and are now leaning towards a strategy of suggesting that it is dangerous to speak honestly about addiction for any reason, a repeat of the known-to-be-false notion about fear being some sort of deterrent (sociologists have known for thirty years that fear is much of the reason segments of society try things like shooting heroin: the bungee-jumping industry grows every time somebody dies in a bungee-dive – true-fact).

        Their strategy – which applies across the board – is to apply pressure by suggesting that honest talk is misleading. Seriously! They want to associate, via pure ad hominem argument, supporters of sensible policies like harm-reduction, with support of drug use / smoking / etc itself, by questioning the motives. This provides a heck of an incentive to lie or stretch the truth, such as saying ‘injecting drugs is harmful’ (actually, there isn’t any truth to that statement, nor is it meaningful really in any case, as everything is potentially harmful in some way, but very unlikely to actually cause harm).

        And who, they then say, would want to correct anti-drug propaganda? What’s wrong with such a person, they imply. The same is happening with e-smoking. Read up on the various propaganda and it’s all about misleading black and white statements like ‘antifreeze found in e-cigs’ but never the part about ‘1 pp trillion found in one chinese sample’ nor the part about adulterants being found in all consumer products in existence, which means nothing unless sufficient amounts are present, of course).

        As a society, we need to not fear the truth, ever, and we need to recognized that not everything is black or white or authoritarian or not – drug addiction is bad, drug criminalization is worse. Injecting drugs in a supervised facility, is massively safer than in a non-supervised facility, and shooting medical heroin in a supervised facility is so safe as to be safer than crossing the street to get to the facilty itself. But you shoudn’t do it. But that’s not reason to make it illegal.

        Reducing Harm is only bad to people who don’t understand they aren’t God and can’t eliminate it altogether. I tend to be on the left politically, but I am seeing no less hypocrisy there about e-cigs than I am about narcotics harm reduction on the right in Canada. Why can’t we just discuss the facts and judge the data fairly? E-cigs are likely 99% safer than smoking, and Insite is much safer than not using Insite, and thinking that removing either entirely will make people quit entirely is arrogance which costs everybody in society.

        Harm reduction is exactly the same whether you apply it to yourself or your neighbor. Nobody’s perfect.

        • Excellent comment and I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Thousands of people have used e-cigarettes to quit smoking by progressively lowering the amount of nicotine in the carrier liquid (usually glycerin, which is harmless).
    How can anyone logically argue the precautionary principle on e-cigs when the well-known harms of conventional cigarettes haven’t been sufficient to trigger an outright ban?
    The cost of conventional nicotine replacement products is about the same as a carton of cigarettes. The cost of a refillable e-cig kit is about the same as a carton to start, then far less than $10 a week for the e-liquid.
    It would seem the government is protecting the bottom lines of both the tobacco companies, the pharmaceutical cartel and itself. Cigs and patches are both far more expensive.
    The tobacco company makes about 40 cents on a $10 pack of smokes, the rest is tax.
    And yes, nicotine patches etc. have been shown to be a complete flop in smoking cessation — people go back to cigarettes 9 times out of 10.
    And its about high time the government legislated the tobacco companies to remove the additional addictive chemicals they’ve been adding for years and go back to supplying only natural tobacco. That in itself would enable far more people to quit. It’s not just the nicotine…

    • The government will be fine with E-cigs once they can use them to satisfy their escalating revenue addiction. They just need to be taxed. A lot.

    • well, i used to smoke the CANADIAN CLASSICS, because they were ADDITIVES FREE, but i noticed that the A.F. logo had disappeared from the packs. so I informed myself towards the co., asking Why? did you remove it. They told me that the gov. now requires them to put an agent in the tobacco, “Really!” I said. And, to add insult to injury, they use the tobacco products to promote their grossly exaggerated pictures, I wonder how the gov. would feel if one started to advertise it’s products on their property!

  3. nicotine itself is probably the least harmful (but most addictive) thing in tobacco.

  4. Both my wife and I started using e cigsback in July of 2012 and by the end of September we were both completely off of smoking and nicotene completely. Gotta say it…e cigs saved our lives. The GoC needs to get their collective heads out of their a55 and start a program using these as the catalyst for quitting. If you want to quit…start with am e cig. i smoked for 17 years and quit within three months.

    • Electronic Cigarettes carry many benefits compared to a traditional tobacco cigarette. An electronic cigarette is a healthier alternative, legal to smoke anywhere and cheaper. If your a tobacco smoker it’s worth the shot trying a electronic cigarette, you have nothing to lose.

  5. My problem is with the double standard when it comes to stimulants. Caffeine is allowed to be distributed in any format, even chocolate bars, but any other stimulant is illegal or restricted, like nicotine. WTF???

  6. Great article! I too, am a smoker of more than 35 years, who (with the help of the patch) was once able to quit for a 3 year + stint. A month before I began smoking again, I would have told you that I long had my nicotine addiction beat and would probably never smoke again. Quitting however, had oddly created a number of other “quality-of-life” and personal happiness problems for me, that were well outside of the typical nicotine addiction thing we all read about. Quitting smoking was indeed one of the most difficult things I ever tackled and beat, which brought with it a certain lever of accomplished pride but failed to deliver any magical reward. I became an angry quitter who had endured that long hard bumpy road but never found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If anything, I was left feeling somewhat mislead, misinformed, abused, and ripped off. I had only lost something I really enjoyed, but got nothing for the trade-off in return. Not only did quitting leave me with the same old crummy life I started with, it left me with less of it because the one thing that was really MINE had been removed. I came to realise that maybe I had quit for the wrong reasons… because of pressure from government price gouging and those who constantly nagged about it… but not for ME. My mom used to say, “nobody likes a quitter”… so I bought a pack, sparked up, and reclaimed that one special little thing I felt my life was missing. I’m now back to lighting up before closing my eyes at night, at break time, and the end of a hard work day, just because it feel rewarding to me. Life is so much better when you actually get your treat after performing the trick. I’ve often said that nothing could ever replace that hot smokey tobacco kick in the throat I love so much… but then again, I haven’t yet tried e-cigs. Health Canada really needs to get their act together with this one.

    • Don’t delay. There are several outstanding products. I would advise obtaining a refillable one with a good battery life. There is no excuse for not quitting when there is a vastly safer alternative. There are people selling them as we speak. I know which way the wind is blowing, but it doesn’t stink upwind.

      • Thanks for responding. I actually Googled into this article after seeing an American e-cigs informercial on TV. I guess my two biggest questions were 1) are nicotine versions of these products available in Canada? – and 2) is it possible to purchase a version that’s flavoured as Canadian tobacco? Because I’ve always been horribly disgusted by the flavour of American cigarette brands, it would probably be wise to get all the facts before making a potentially disappointing purchase.

        This article suggests however, that I’ll probably have to put my e-cigs wish-list on hold for now, and wait for Health Canada to ease up on what can or cannot be sold on this side of the border. I’m a bit hesitant to request suggestions in this open forum regarding the “outstanding products” you’ve mentioned above, but I am indeed eager to take your advice and seek a healthier alternative in the very near future. Thanks again! :)

        • @ Rick – E-cigs are absolutely the best purchase I’ve ever made. If you want you can PM me on Facebook under “Nuclearbroccoli Nuke” and I can point you in the right direction, or Google ecig forums for a lot of good information.

        • There are many flavors – perhaps the primary reason our local busybodies don’t think the serfs should have e-cigs. I’ll be frank though: The E-cigs I purchased were sold under a bridge, around the back door and down a set of dusty stairs. They may well have saved my life. I’ve cared for a couple of people who died of tobacco use until their deaths. I’ll be damned if Ottowa’s moral authority is legitimate when it comes to prohibition of such a life-saving device.

    • Rick.. I sell these products and i use them all the time. I havent quit smoking yet but i use the e smoke as a way to cut back. We sell the EGO C line and its excellent. By far the best one out there and i have researched these. We also sell canadian made juice with or without nicotine so i know its all available. If you need me.

  7. Patches, drugs and the like dont work well. After smoking for 35 years and have tried quiting dozens of times. Trying everything and not succeeding. Its the physical act not the nicotine. The feeling when you draw it in, holding it between your fingers, exhaling out the smoke. Id try it and maybe it would help. But once again the federal government wants to ensure 2 things that are gauranteed..death and taxes.

  8. Really thoughtful and well argued article!! As a smoker you have experienced first hand how difficult it is to quit this habit! eCigs give you a better alternative to this habit and they aren’t allowing testing that can offer the public a better alternative?!!

    Good points that get people thinking man!

  9. I am waiting for (them to say no to) the E-Cigar

  10. Just an FYI: Health Canada cannot forbid the sale of electronic cigarettes. It would need a law to be passed to do so. It only issued an advisory:

    It is confusing and most people think e-cigs with nicotine are illegal in Canada when in fact they are not.

    As for the quality control, the community has created many safe options to the pre filled mini electronic cigarettes sold in corner stores and cheap online websites. Take your time and do the research. I for one am mixing my own e-liquid with known ingredients and am vaping in rebuildable atomizers using the best and safest materials (Pyrex, Kanthal A-1, Stainless Steel 316, organic cotton, hemp twine etc.)

    Don’t wait for Health Canada to give you permission to live a healthier lifestyle while still getting your creative nic fix! :)

  11. I quit a pack a day habit 11 months ago and am still going strong. I didn’t wait for permission.

  12. You have “permission” to use e-cigarettes. This is why they are widely available in Canada and NO ONE has been charged with selling e-cigarettes. It unfortunate that Health Canada has chosen to circulate incorrect information that these products are illegal.

  13. The claims of this article are quite interesting given that patients in the hospital in Alberta are actually using e-cigarettes (their own supply with the permission of their physicians).

  14. A lot of my friends in the States have successfully quit smoking with
    e-cigarettes. They started out with the nicotine cartridges and then
    dropped them completely for the fruit flavoured cartridges. All of them
    love them. For the first time in my life I was actually looking forward
    to quitting a 40 year addiction… especially since I have COPD. Illegal in
    Canada? Great! Thanks Health Canada… I’ll probably die with a
    cigarette in my hand.

  15. Nicotine stimulates the brains, so I heard that they will be using it to treat alzheimer’s patients,

  16. As a smoker for 22 years, e-cigs allowed me to quit cigarettes and stay off of tobacco for 11 months now. I feel happier ,healthier and completely liberated from those stinky smokes. I now vape 70% vegetable glycerin and 30% propylene glycol while reducing my nicotine amount gradually. I tried all the other cessations to quit and e-cigs made it a panic free transition. I now sing the praises of ego e-cigs to anyone who will listen. I have heard it mention that fruit and candy flavours of e-juice are a concern since it appears that the manufacturers are trying to market these to children. However I am an adult and the candy and fruit flavours are all I’ll buy so it’s actually me, a man over the age of 40 who they are marketing to.

  17. Who cares about any lingering effects from e smokes. No matter how you slice it using a electronic smoke is much safer, cheaper and more effective then to continue smoking or use any of the ” Approved’ devices that health canada allows. i think the true problem here is that taxation canada hasnt come up with a way to battle the dwindling revenues from big tobacco and e smokes are starting to create enough of a stir that they are worried all of us smokers will quit buying cigarettes. I find it so hypocritical that cigarettes have tripled in price over the last twenty years so that the government can protect us from ourselves. Its just another example of doing what is right for them and not what is right for our country as a whole. I may be naive but i still believe in democracy and i also believe that our representatives in government should be doing just that. Representing all of our needs not just the top ten percent that already have the money, the power and everything else they have wanted. Electronic cigarettes are less harmful to the user and to the people around them. The chemicals used in the manufacturer of JUICE are household chemicals that have been used for years in consumer edible products so there are no health issues. Yes you inhale but if you walk down any downtown city core at rush hour you are going to inhale more chemicals there then anything that vaping is going to give you. Just my opinion!

  18. Hello
    I do know why government does not taken e cigarette positively. I have been vaping for a year and i did not found anything wrong or you can say bad in e cigarettes.


  20. What really sad is this corrupt government is peddling cigarettes which are KNOWN to be harmfull raking in billions, but they will nix water vapour in a jiffy because theres not enough revenue involved.

  21. Electronic Cigarettes are amazing. No more bad breath, no more smelly clothes or hair, no more harsh canadian weather. Choose your flavour and your nicotine percentage and get on it. Technology advances and those who embrace it reap the benefits.

  22. E cigarette is the best alternative of the traditional cigarette. E cigarette come sinto different taste like menthol, coffee, tobacco, strawberry etc. So people can enjoy the smoking with E cigarette without any fear of bad health.

  23. China invented the ecig. Maybe thats why? Something anyway hinders ecig. Cause you can smoke pot in them? Cause people will live longer? Maybe thats why. I will breath now and i was losing my lungs with dumaurier, and alllll my extra money. But now i have good lungs and extra money, i don’t think they like that. Better to remain poor and die sooner in this new world order?

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