“Nicotine is both the problem and the solution to smoking and the epidemic can be stopped by using non-combustion alternatives,” said Sweanor last week in an article on Troy Media. David Sweanor is an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Law and the Centre for Health Law Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa. He has been striving to develop tobacco-control laws in Canada and around the world for the last 30 years, and has received the prestigious Ottawa’s Outstanding Individual Philanthropist award in 2016.
Sweanor talked about the FDA’s latest Tobacco Plan announcement, calling it, “ remarkable – even revolutionary”. In an interview on CNBC last week, the FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said that the agency’s new tobacco plan supports product innovation so that smokers can obtain the nicotine they crave, without the added carcinogens derived from the combustion of tobacco.
On the other hand, pointed out Sweanor, “Canada has been focused on risk aversion where nicotine is concerned – and such a stance, ironically, protects the cigarette trade.” Sweanor explained why this is the wrong approach. Echoing just what Gottlieb said, he said that it is common knowledge that while people become addicted to nicotine, it is the carcinogens that people breathe in through the smoke, not the nicotine itself that kills smokers. “Just as we can stop cholera through cleaner water, we can stop the cigarette epidemic through the substitution of non-combustion alternatives to cigarettes.” he added.
Canadian regulation has failed to adapt
The professor said that sadly many smokers are aware of all the above and they have been facing significant obstacles by the authorities just to be able to obtain and use safer alternatives such as electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. “Canadian regulation has not only failed to adapt to and facilitate the transition to these massively lower-risk products, but hampered their development, marketing and accessibility. Smoke-free products could not only dramatically reduce the disease burden but could facilitate total nicotine abstinence for those who wish it.” pointed out Sweanor.
This Summer, Bill S-5, made it through the Canadian Senate and is currently awaiting approval from the House of Commons. If this bill is passed, it will become illegal to label alternatives such as e-cigarettes as ‘lower risk’ products, even if they are. Sweanor said that Canadian authorities seem to have moved from reluctantly not banning the safer alternatives, to settling for creating a legislation that prevents the products to be advertised for the harm reduction potential that they hold.
Empowering instead of shaming
“Canada could be on the threshold of a health breakthrough of historic significance – if we recognized nicotine’s continuum of risk. What holds us back is not a lack of science, technology, business viability nor consumer interest. Rather, it’s a collective failure of vision.” said Sweanor, concluding, “We can replace an approach based on punishing and shaming smokers into trying to quit with one that empowers them to succeed. With a visionary approach, we can relegate cigarettes to history’s ashtray.”
In line with the above, latest data from the UK, where vaping products have long been endorsed as smoking cessation tools, indicates that the number of smoking adults has dropped from 20.1% in 2010 to 17.2% in 2015, the lowest it has ever been since recording smoking figures started in 1974. This equates to the UK boasting the second lowest smoking rates in Europe after Sweden.
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