An open letter from Darryl Tempest – Executive Director of the Canadian Vaping Association
Beamsville, ON, Feb. 16, 2021 -- For the better part of the last decade, advocates have fought for vaping to be recognised as a harm reduction tool for adult smokers. In the time since, science has caught up with the industry’s message and vaping has been recognized by all health organizations as far less harmful than smoking. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence concluding that vaping is less harmful, smokers and society at large are still being sent mixed messages by the government and misleading information by media to support a sensationalistic narrative.
Canada has a strong history of supporting other types of harm reduction, with the response to the opioid crisis being a great example. Opioid overdoses were responsible for 16,364 deaths in Canada over a 4-year period. The government responded by creating safe injection sites and are now considering decriminalizing heroine, fentanyl and cocaine. These measures were designed to provide safe spaces for addicts and to connect them with needed resources. While safe injection sites and the decriminalization of hard drugs are controversial, the government continues to address the problem through a science-based harm reduction lens.
This harm reduction lens is again applied to COVID-19, with Canada’s implementation of a highly controversial response. The country has shut down businesses, closed schools, mandated safety plans for employers and restricted travel. These measures while extreme and controversial were implemented following a thorough scientific review which determined they were necessary for public health. To date, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 21,311 Canadians.
These are just two of many examples of Canada leading effective harm reduction policies regardless of the controversy surrounding them for the betterment of public health. Vaping has been scientifically proven to be the most effective cessation method for smoking; an addiction that claims the lives of 45,000 Canadians each year. Despite smoking being Canada’s leading cause of preventable illness and premature death, the government’s response to vaping has been dangerously inadequate.
While Health Canada’s website does state that smokers who switch completely to vaping reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, their campaigns warning of the dangers of vaping, without mention of the immense harm reduction opportunity for our country’s 4.5 million smokers have confused the public. This is made clear by polling which found more than half of Canadian’s believe vaping is at least as harmful as smoking. This polling data is dreadfully low for a product that could save millions of lives, save our health care system billions of dollars, and prevent millions of Canadian families from experiencing the emotional toll of smoking related deaths.
In large part, the confusion surrounding vaping stems from legitimate concerns regarding increased youth vaping rates. Instead of focusing on educating youth and restricting access, media and anti-vape organizations continue to run harmful campaigns discrediting vaping as a harm reduction solution while targeting flavours. These campaigns are contrary to the fact that vaping is the most successful tool in history to address smoking rates. To meet our national smoking reduction goal, policy makers must support vaping as a harm reduction strategy. We only need to look to the results in the United Kingdom to see the incredibly positive impact vaping has had on their nation. If the Government of Canada is serious about smoking rates being at 5% by 2035, their current policies will need to catch up with the plethora of science supporting vaping as the most powerful tool for harm reduction and acknowledge that flavours are the key to vaping’s success.
Youth vaping is a real concern, but it can be addressed through proper enforcement, education, and restricting access to adult environments, rather than further regulation at the expense of the lives of millions of adult smokers. Smoking is our country’s greatest threat to public health, with a death toll greater than both overdoses and COVID-19 fatalities combined. The government must use the same scientific approach to solving this health crisis as would be applied to any other.
While my message is addressing the systematic change needed to save millions of lives, personally I have lost family members to smoking related disease, as many of us have. If our leaders in government, public health and journalism continue to ignore the research, the only message I could share with those that our families have lost, is that because of stigma their lives didn’t matter to our society.
We will continue the fight for those that can change their health outcomes and for those that we have already lost.