Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was once accused of preventing scientists from freely reporting their findings. Now under Justin Trudeau’s watch something similar is happening and it’s not just speculation. There is a very real effort being made to outlaw the publication of scientific data on a certain topic – e-cigarettes.
Bill S-5, which was introduced in November 2015, is anti-vaping legislation that puts e-cigarettes and vaping products in the tobacco product category, subjecting e-cigarettes to the same rules and restrictions as tobacco cigarettes. Similar to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s rules, Bill S-5 basically treats vaping like it’s the same thing as smoking, despite mountains of evidence that shows vaping to be significantly safer.
In addition to the restrictive nature of Bill S-5, it also restricts the public’s access to scientific reports on the health effects of vaping. For example, if a vape shop posted a flyer with information about scientific studies that show vaping to be less harmful than smoking, the shop owner could be fined up to $500,000 and even get prison time of up to two years.
While it is one to thing to restrict unscientific claims, the law would actually do the opposite: Restrict claims that are backed by real, peer-reviewed scientific studies.
E-cigarette manufacturers and suppliers have never been in the habit of making false claims, in fact, they are careful not to. A look around the internet for vape shops and e-cigarette suppliers with online stores shows that the overwhelming majority of them post disclaimers stating that e-cigarettes are not a smoking cessation method, but rather, an alternative to smoking for adults who already smoke. Now regulations in both Canada and the U.S. make such disclaimers the law or will soon, even though for most vaping suppliers those disclaimers were already a matter of voluntary choice.
Now in Canada, it will also be against the law to make accurate scientific based statements about the health effects of vaping. This is because the government wants to be the only entity making claims about e-cigarettes. While that may sound reasonable at first thought, one has to ask why, if the statements are backed by peer-reviewed scientific studies, would it be wrong for anyone to mention them?
The answer is likely to be this: Most legitimate scientific studies on the effects of e-cigarettes and vaping show that it has no health risks of any note at least in the short term, there is no reason for alarm about the possibility of long-term effects, and it is by comparison to smoking tobacco cigarettes, significantly safer.
But the government doesn’t want you to know that. By banning real evidence on e-cigarettes, the government can control the message, manipulate the data and only report the few negatives that come out of scientific studies.
It is not clear why the Canadian government is taking an anti-vaping stance that goes against the good of the public health, and also costs the government money. Health Canada estimates that some 4.6 million Canadians are smokers, with the habit causing about 40,000 deaths per year. That costs the healthcare system billions of dollars a year.
While the United Kingdom government has allowed science to guide its policy on e-cigarettes and therefore recommends them as an alternative that smokers should try, Canada and the United States continue to ignore science and insist that vaping is not a solution to the smoking problem. Meanwhile, smokers who have been unable to quit with other methods are at risk of continuing health problems and eventual death if they are prevented from learning about and having access to the safer alternative.