On behalf of The Canadian Lung Association and The Canadian Thoracic Society, we would like to express our disappointment upon seeing a reputable publication, such as The Globe and Mail, publish the Imperial Tobacco paid letter on World No Tobacco Day. The information contained within this letter is alarming, harmful and must be corrected. First and foremost, we should be clear that neither tobacco cigarettes nor e-cigarettes are harmless. These products can lead to addiction, disease and death.
The paid letter itself is an example of a wolf parading in sheep’s clothing. The bottom line is that the tobacco industry, which in large part owns the vaping industry, is the reason that 45,000 Canadians die each year. Tobacco companies actively promote a pathway to addiction and disease. The letter attempts to present Imperial Tobacco as “one of us,” suggesting they are doing all they can to prevent youth from smoking and vaping. It is almost as though Imperial Tobacco had forgotten that it is they who supply the products to begin with.
To be clear: Youth, non-smokers and those who have quit should not vape. Vaping is harmful and its nicotine contents can lead to a life-long nicotine addiction. Furthermore, there is evidence that vaping leads to respiratory damage. Unbelievably, Imperial Tobacco also raises a feigned concern about youth and smoking and vaping. Yet smoking and vaping can go hand in hand.
The introduction of e-cigarettes to the marketplace has tragically led to an increase in youth smoking rates. This is the first increase in smoking rates within that demographic in decades. And it is thanks to e-cigarettes. Youth are undeniably a vulnerable demographic and we are working very hard to undo the damage caused by Imperial Tobacco, and others like it, masquerading as a public health advocate in the referenced letter.
The ad further implies that the tobacco industry could be trusted with the protection of our youth and their lung health. This is misleading and undermines the efforts of respectable organizations and government agencies to thwart the dangerous youth vaping epidemic through reputable research, evidence and public education. That is not a role that can be played by a company with a clear stake in the opposite outcome.
The vaping industry’s clever marketing, attractive flavours and sleek packaging attract youth to their products. Well-designed vaping devices do not appeal to youth by accident. The tobacco/vaping industry knows what it is doing. Flavours are one of the driving forces behind addiction to nicotine among youth. There is well-established evidence that fruit, dessert, candy, and other sweet flavoured e-liquids (flavourings used in vaping products) are the most popular among adolescents and youth. Also, the chemicals used for flavouring create some of the most toxic and damaging inhaled compounds.
Lastly, let us address the question of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool. Vaping devices may be less harmful than conventional cigarettes if used as a step to transition away from tobacco products and eventually lead to complete cessation. However, we know that dual use and use from non-smokers is very high.
In fact, 65% of e-cigarette users in Canada continue to smoke. Moreover, 16% of e-cigarette users in Canada are never smokers (Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 2017). And a certain proportion of e-cigarette users are individuals who have quit smoking altogether but have returned to the nicotine market by using e-cigarettes.
To the critical reader, we urge you to ask yourself: what benefit would Imperial Tobacco stand to gain by willfully eliminating its profits gained through dual use? Why would it minimize its customer base?
Andrew Halayko, PhD, FCAHS John Granton, MD, FRCPC
Chair, Board of Directors President, Canadian Thoracic Society
The Canadian Lung Association