Recently, the Ontario government announced its intention to treat vaping the same as cigarette-smoking. If this strikes you as being as dumb as treating clean needles like dirty ones, or safe sex the same as the unprotected variety, you have grasped the problem with the plan.
Well, actually, its dumber. What they are doing will protect well-established and well-heeled cigarette companies, giving them a big competitive advantage over the upstart vaporizers. After all, smokers don’t need to learn what cigarettes are, or be taught how to use them. But many need to learn to vape and determine which combination of device and liquid is right for them in order to quit smoking, and the proposed rules prohibit the testing or sampling of such products. So they will make quitting that much harder.
And by forcing vapers to stand outside with smokers, the Ontario government flies in the face of research which tells us anyone seeking to quit smoking should avoid temptation by staying away from cigarettes and those using them. All this despite credible scientific authorities determining that vaping emits nothing that is particularly harmful.
Epidemics are terrible things, but few things can be worse than totally preventable ones that result from poor policy decisions. Cigarette smoking has long been a classic example. It still causes 37,000 Canadian deaths a year. That is almost one in every five deaths in our country.
Nicotine is the reason people use cigarettes – but it’s not what kills them. The human body is just not equipped to repeatedly inhale smoke without being at great risk of it causing cancers, heart and lung disease and other severe health consequences. Dealing with the epidemic of these diseases should be simple. Essentially, it comes down to four words: “It’s the smoke, stupid.”
Were smokers able to get the nicotine they need or want without smoking, this horrendous epidemic would virtually disappear. This is consistent with longstanding public health efforts to reduce risks from a huge range of activities. Consumers have been encouraged to switch to less hazardous ways of driving, home heating, working, sexual activity, eating, alcohol consumption, prescription drug use and a wide variety of other activities. But when it comes to our largest cause of preventable death, and one so very easily prevented, we see policy proposals that do the opposite. Surely Ontario can do better.
Smokers are more than willing to cooperate. A large majority say that they want to quit and a tremendous number try to quit on a regular basis. But quitting is tough – and most fail. Finally, they have powerful allies: the scientists and entrepreneurs who have brought forward a consumer-acceptable way to deliver the nicotine without the smoke. Increasing numbers are finding vaping a way out of cigarette dependence, as a visit to one of the now widespread vape shops will show. More will do so as products improve.
It is that great leap forward in public health that the Ontario government seems determined to thwart. We do need sensible policies in place, including to protect youth from nicotine use and consumers from faulty goods. But vaping offers to save taxpayers money while saving smokers’ lives. The opportunity to end an epidemic warrants the use of some creative thinking and the application of basic principles of public health. We need to have the vision to facilitate technology that could rapidly relegate the epidemic of smoking-caused disease to our history books rather than our hospital wards.
Canada led on much of the early policy action that reduced smoking rates. Ontario’s government has the opportunity to again put itself on the side, not just of the science, but of millions of smokers who want to quit. They need to get the smoke out of their eyes, so others can get it out of their lungs.