Hello everyone, my name is Maria Papaioannoy Duic. Today I have been given the opportunity to discuss vaping and bring attention to the important role that Vape Shop owners and users of vaping technology can bring to the creation of productive and impactful regulations in the vaping world. But due to systemic exclusion by Tobacco Control, Public Health, and regulators in these conversations, former smokers that use vaping technologies are facing the real possibility of returning to smoking because of impossible regulations that do not put them into the equation.

Vaping in Canada is regulated as a consumer product. What that means, is that it cannot be marketed as a smoking cessation product. If you look on the Health Canada website, you will find the following statements.

  • Completely replacing cigarette smoking with vaping will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. [1]
  • There are short-term general health improvements if you completely switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping products. [1]
  • Vaping is less harmful than smoking. Many of the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco and the tobacco smoke form when tobacco is burned. [1]

All positive statements, all statements that if you look at the trajectory of vaping regulation, would lead one to believe that Health Canada is being ignored.

I smoked from the time I was 14 years old until 39. That is 25 years. That is almost half my life that has been spent as a smoker. It was in 2010 that my husband and I discovered vaping and have been smoke free since! In 2013, we decided that we wanted to help others stop smoking and we opened one of the very first vape shops in Canada. In the last 7 years, I have had the privilege of helping thousands of people stop smoking, and more importantly, I have helped many use their voice to fight for fair access to this life saving product.

I have organized numerous protests across the country, launched campaigns to push back against misinformation about vaping, and spoken at government committee meetings about vaping regulations. My proudest moment in vaping was to lead a campaign that saw over 24,000 postcards sent to Health Canada from vapers across this country to support continued access to flavoured vaping products. I have and will continue to support advocacy organizations for vaping across this country.  I believe that the more voices that are heard the better.

Currently I am teaming up with the amazing people at Rights 4 Vapers. They are an organization of vaping advocates dedicated to the advancement of Canadian based research on vaping. Dr. Chris Lalonde is an Academic Advisor who is part of this team of committed volunteers and academics. Rights 4 Vapers is the voice of Canadian adult vapers, 98% of whom are former smokers. [2]

Through all these experiences and initiatives, I have learned one thing; support for vaping as a harm reduction tool sits inside an echo chamber. That currently, our allies are few and far between, and those that do stand up for this life saving Harm Reduction Tool are ostracized and shamed by the very organizations that are fighting for the eradication of tobacco related illnesses.

What if I was to tell you that electronic cigarettes are not the disruptor of the tobacco and Tobacco Control industry, but that independent vape shops are the true disruptor, as they encroach upon both the Pharmaceutical and Tobacco industries in the battle to win the smoker over to their side.

Since the introduction of vaping into the Canadian market in 2010, independent vape shops have played a vital role in helping Canadian smokers quit by transitioning to vaping. These pioneers of the industry have helped tens of thousands of Canadians quit smoking by not only providing the products, but by offering a community of support and non-judgmental, peer-based counseling services. This model stands apart from the government-sponsored, medicalized, and pharmaceutical model of tobacco cessation and offers unique advantages. However, this space is under threat by regulations, and its community representatives have been excluded and have had their lived experiences excluded from policy discussions.

Since the introduction of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act [3], people like me, vape shop owners, have been labelled as a Tobacco company. This obvious purposeful and unsubstantiated label has systemically excluded us from conversations. I am going to be honest; I was kind of shocked. Me a tobacco company? You have got to be kidding. But they were not kidding. Everything I am fighting for has nothing to do with tobacco. But this convenient addition to the Tobacco Control lexicon has created a wall to systematically exclude any conversation about the adult smoker and their experience.

For the last few years, I have continued to experience being cancelled out by Tobacco Control. Most recently I registered to attend a conference as an Attendee. The day before the event my registration was cancelled. Based on the communication I received from the Chair of the event, it was my understanding that the steering committee had enacted a policy to exclude the Independent Canadian Vaping industry.

“Unfortunately, because of the long history of the tobacco industry confounding Tobacco Control efforts and the move by the tobacco industry to infiltrate and take control of the vaping industry, there is a lack of willingness to allow individuals who have a link to the vaping industry, even as an independent retailer, to be involved with knowledge exchange events such as the Forum.”

What does a girl like me do? I emailed the entire steering committee. However, I made a shocking discovery. A member of this steering committee, that supported this systemic exclusion of people like me in the conversation of Tobacco Control, was also an employee of the very body that creates regulations for our industry, Health Canada. That in my opinion is alarming. And things must change.

The state of vaping nicotine in Canada is moving away from a progressive set of balanced regulations, where the smoker’s needs were always considered to be a more prohibitive set of regulations at Federal, Provincial, and Municipal levels. Across Canada, it is becoming much more difficult to not only access vaping products, but to also find support for smokers wanting to make the switch. Public Health and Anti-Smoking Advocates have convinced regulators across Canada that vaping is just as bad, if not worse than smoking. Nicotine caps, flavors bans, and excessive taxation are being implemented in provinces like Nova Scotia, Alberta, and British Columbia, with very little, if any consultation with consumers and industry members.

A vape shop is one of the few spaces that a smoker can walk in and not feel shame for smoking. As a society, we have created zero safe places for smokers. Vape Shops have filled that gap. When smokers first walk into a vape shop, they are, in most cases, being assisted by a former smoker. Peer to peer support is the biggest asset in these shops. They offer education, support, and more care towards their customers than any other industry. Why? Because they get it. On average, new customers spend one hour in a vape shop learning all they can about vaping. They also provide ongoing support to customers, from helping them remove that one cigarette they cannot seem to let go of, to troubleshooting their device.

Regulations with exorbitant taxation that bans flavours, limits bottle sizes, and puts caps on nicotine levels, will cause vape shops to close and former smokers will lose the safe and supportive environment that helped keep them smoke-free. Vapers will return to smoking. One only needs to look at Nova Scotia to bear witness of regulations that were driven by Tobacco Control and disparaged the Nova Scotia Vaper’s voice. According to a recent poll, “29% of vapers will return to smoking.” [4]  One of the biggest drivers of this en masse return to smoking, is the prohibitive regulations that were imposed in Canada. A flavour ban, a nicotine cap, and taxation. The trifecta of prohibition through regulations. If we were included, we would not be looking at smoking rates increasing for the first time in decades. But we were not part of the conversation. I fear that nothing will be learned from this example.

As we have learned from Nova Scotian regulations, it is essential that any government regulatory process thoughtfully and purposely includes the vaping industry and the end user into the conversation. We can no longer stand by and allow vaping to be painted by the same brush of our predecessor. Every single vaper should be acknowledged as a former smoker and be given an opportunity to share their voice. Vape shop owners have a unique set of skills and backgrounds that share real experience and actionable measures that can work to help smokers remove cigarettes from their lives. Removing a key peer support option can be detrimental in creating a smoke free Canada. Again, just ask Nova Scotia.

References

  1. Health effects of vaping vs smoking. (2020, June 12). Canada. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/smoking-tobacco/vaping/smokers.html
  2. Canadian Vapers Deserve A Voice and A Choice. (2020, January 16). Rights4Vapers. Retrieved September 22, 2020, from https://www.rights4vapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2020-01-16-R4V-Release_FINAL.pdf
  3. Tobacco and Vaping Products Act. (n.d.). Canada. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/tobacco/legislation/federal-laws/tobacco-act.html
  4. Brand, M. (2020, October 15). Cigarette sales in Nova Scotia increasing: Atlantic Convenience Stores Association. Halifax Today. Retrieved from https://www.halifaxtoday.ca/local-news/cigarette-sales-in-nova-scotia-increasing-atlantic-convenience-stores-association-2792516?fbclid=IwAR3GqgRAxkCmuBryl04KJG0WFanEatAW7ehzx_NSxtLLo29lvlwIQr2BTHo

 

Maria has been part of the vape industry since 2010, first as a consumer then opening her business The Ecig Flavourium in 2013 and ever since has been fighting for fair regulations for the Canadian Vaping industry.