National health organizations are demanding that the federal government immediately regulate the sale of flavored nicotine pouches, a product approved for sale by Ottawa in July, without any restrictions on how it is advertised or who can buy it .
“It’s completely legal for stores to sell these nicotine pouches to children of any age,” Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said at a joint news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“This is simply mind-boggling.”
The pouches, produced by cigarette manufacturer Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., do not contain tobacco but contain nicotine, a drug declared by Health Canada. as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
“It may say on the label that the product is only for people over 18, but that doesn’t help,” Cunningham said. “A retailer who sells to minors will not face any violations, charges or fines.”
Approved under Natural Health Products Regulations under the name Zonnic, sales of the sachets as a smoking cessation product began in October at gas stations and convenience stores.
But health organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Lung Association say these products are deliberately marketed to children.
“These products are appealing to young people. They have attractive flavors. They come in containers that could very well hold candy. Of course young people are going to be interested in them,” Cunningham said.
“Imperial Tobacco uses the classic lifestyle advertising we’ve seen for cigarettes to promote these addictive products in places where young people are exposed, like convenience stores and Instagram.”
Health groups call for suspension of sales
Health organizations don’t want an outright ban on nicotine pouches, but they do want Health Canada to reclassify them as a prescription product or suspend their sale until regulations are passed to prevent their sale to children.
According to the groups, both approaches could be implemented quickly without regulatory changes.
They also want Ottawa to impose a temporary moratorium on the approval of any new nicotine packet product or any new category of products under Canadian natural health regulations.
“It’s only a matter of time before use becomes widespread unless action is taken,” Cunningham said.
CBC News contacted Health Canada and did not receive a response.
“We are reviewing this closely to ensure that these products are sold for the purposes for which they were approved,” wrote Christopher Aoun, press secretary to Health Minister Mark Holland.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that tobacco companies are marketing nicotine products, such as sachets, to children and under-18s.”
Imperial Tobacco wants to sell in pharmacies
Imperial Tobacco Canada said it sought approval of Zonnic in Canada almost two years ago. He said he eventually wants to sell the product in pharmacies, which takes longer to approve than retail sales elsewhere.
“This is part of our approach to creating a better future,” said Eric Gagnon, vice-president of legal and external affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada.
“We know there are a lot of adult consumers and a lot of adult smokers who want to quit, but it’s not always easy.”
Zonnic is classified as a natural health product and not a pharmaceutical product, Gagnon said, since it contains 4 mg or less of nicotine.
“These health groups have been fighting tobacco companies for decades in Canada, and they still oppose them in everything we try to do,” he said.
“They are more concerned that tobacco companies are trying to reinvent themselves. We recognize the health risk associated with smoking and we believe it is right for us to bring to market a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. But they don’t like it.”
Gagnon said all social media ads for the product are aimed at adults 25 and older and ask retailers not to sell the products to minors.
“These products are not intended for children,” he said.
But health groups point to Ottawa’s failure to restrict advertising of vaping products when they hit the market in 2018. Canada has now some of the highest teen vaping rates in the world.
“The federal government didn’t crack down on advertising for over a year. They waited until the problem became apparent,” said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, adding that Ottawa was waiting for data on young people. vaping before restricting marketing.
“In reality, we know very little about the health effects of these products… in the same way that we didn’t know about cigarettes 100 years ago.
“Most people who become addicted to nicotine do so during their teenage years. We need to learn a lesson from the vaping experience.”