The introduction of nicotine pouches to the Canadian market has sparked concerns among health experts, who are calling for rapid regulation due to the legal availability of these products to children.
On Tuesday, a group of Canadian health organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, urged the federal government to restrict the availability of nicotine pouches, saying the product contains “a highly addictive drug.”
“This is the first time in over 100 years in Canada that it is legal to sell nicotine products to children from a tobacco company,” said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Society of cancer, during a press conference. “What happened is incomprehensible, but it happened and how it should be fixed. »
On October 12, Health Canada approved the sale of flavored nicotine pouches from Imperial Tobacco, called Zonnic. According to the company’s press release, the product is a sachet that can help adult smokers quit smoking by delivering nicotine to the body.
However, health experts like Cunningham say that without regulations similar to those governing smoking, children are at risk of becoming addicted to these products.
Canadian health experts call for immediate suspension of nicotine pouch sales
“These nicotine pouches clearly appeal to young people,” Cunningham added. “With attractive flavors like Tropic Breeze, Chill Mint and Berry Frost, and with small, colorful packages that could very well contain candy, of course young people will want to buy them. The devastating result is that young people will find themselves trapped in nicotine addiction.
Because of this potential harm, a group of health organizations — Action on Smoking and Health, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Physicians for a smoke-free Canada, are calling on Health Canada to create stricter rules. .
At Tuesday’s press conference, experts urged the federal government to reclassify nicotine pouches as prescription products (meaning they will be sold only in pharmacies) or suspend their sale until “the regulatory void is filled”.
What are nicotine pouches?
Nicotine sachets, placed between the upper lip and the gum, resemble Swedish snus but do not contain tobacco leaf. They are typically used as a smoke-free alternative to traditional tobacco products, according to a 2023 article published in the British Dental Journal.
These products are becoming increasingly popular around the world because they are likely a “lower risk product” compared to smoking, the article states.
Nicotine pouches, being relatively new, lack extensive research, with only a small number of published articles available, the article states. Because if so, there is currently a lack of evidence to “assess the absolute health effects of these specific products.”
“It’s been on the market for a few weeks now, it’s a nicotine replacement therapy,” Eric Gagnon, vice-president of legal and external affairs at Imperial Tobacco Canada, told Global News.
“We had to go through an application process with Health Canada. It took just under two years, thanks to a long and complicated process. But we have been able to demonstrate that it helps people quit smoking. So we got a license.
But as the sachets come in a range of flavors, experts say this could play an important role in attracting young people to tobacco products.
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“We know very little about the health effects of these products. I think there are reasons why many people would consider them safer than smoking. But when it comes to a young person’s drinking, it doesn’t matter. The problem with these products is that they are being introduced without any disclosure or testing, or any idea of their impact on public health,” Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said at the press conference. .
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“We don’t know, in the same way we didn’t know how dangerous cigarettes were 100 years ago. Waiting for an entire generation to use these products before having an epidemiology is not useful.
Gagnon said it was “unfortunate” that the product was targeted, as the company demonstrated to Health Canada, which helps adult smokers quit.
He believes that if more regulations were added to nicotine pouches, “adult smokers will be the ones paying the price.”
He also said the company has marketing requirements in stores where it is sold.
“It was made clear that this had to be done behind the counter. And even though it’s not regulated, we have asked that anyone who purchases the product be a verified adult.
What other countries are doing
“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, which can lead to lifelong dependence. Countries around the world are scrambling to tackle this new product, with some banning its recreational use and others strictly regulating it,” said Terry Dean, President and CEO of the Canadian Lung Association, during of the press release.
“Requiring nicotine pouches to be prescription-only could be done quickly and easily. The need for immediate action is all the more necessary as other companies are already seeking permission to sell nicotine pouches, which would make the problem even worse.
In April, the Netherlands announced it was banning the sale of all types of nicotine pouches. And since October, the sale of nicotine sachets is no longer authorized in Belgium.
While some countries have banned the use of this product, others, such as Denmark and Kenya, regulate the use of nicotine pouches under their existing tobacco control laws.
If Canada doesn’t act, Cunningham said it “will become a significant problem” unless stricter laws are put in place.
“Nicotine products lead to smoking, not nicotine products lead to quitting,” said Stephanie Lawrence, senior director of communications at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“There is still much work to be done to help adult smokers quit, but allowing the tobacco industry to target our young people with its addictive products is not the solution,” she said during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We have a small window of opportunity to keep these flavored nicotine pouches out of the hands of the next generation. We missed this opportunity with e-cigarettes when they were legalized and we should not miss the opportunity before us today.
— With files from Kyle Benning of Global News