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THE WAR ON VAPING: BIG TOBACCO AND HEALTH CANADA PUT SMOKERS IN A NEW ULTIMATUM

“You think about the power the government has…it’s disgusting. Because sometmes we don’t have any choice but to do what they say.”

Dan Leek (former smoker)

In recent years, it’s become widely known that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, just as addictive, or even more than cocaine and heroin. Millions of people across Canada have felt the power of nicotine dependence for generations, and lately, Big Tobacco (the tobacco industry conglomerate) has made it extremely difficult to escape. 

Smoking cigarettes may not be the first line of nicotine consumption anymore. Smoking e-cigarettes, also referred to as vaping, has taken off in recent years as a way to wean off cigarettes, for both long-term smokers and youth whose nicotine consumption is just beginning. With nearly 20 years of vape products on the market, people are saving hundreds of dollars a year and are even completely avoiding toxic cigarette smoke.

But on July 23 of this year, Health Canada officially capped all nicotine products over 20mg with a nationwide ban. The highest amount prior was 50mg. They’re also planning on banning most flavours, other than tobacco, menthol and mint as early as Jan. 1, 2022. Soon we will be saying goodbye to flavours like Banana Ice, Tropical Fusions, Pink Lemonade and Cherry Lime.

The restrictions that Health Canada has implemented have brought forward questions about their motives and strong reactions from nicotine consumers across the nation. Health Canada says the nicotine cap is inspired by a concern for youth becoming dependent on nicotine and exposed to “harm”. But vaping has been widely studied and proven to be less harmful than cigarettes, so what’s the real motive? To cut back or quit smoking appears to be the implied explanation for the Canadian government’s actions.

Dan Leek, former smoker of 30 years says, “I don’t think they’re asking people to cut down at all. I think they’re just bullying people.” 

Lowering nicotine levels for vaping products puts those addicted in a tricky place. Leek further explains that the government knows Canadians are addicted, so lowering the legal amounts of nicotine doesn’t actually inspire people to change, at least not in a positive direction. It puts them in a position where they’re not getting the nicotine they need, forcing them to take up cigarette smoking again. 

“They’re afraid of losing money and they don’t care about the consumer at all. All they care about is making money.”

Research has shown that most people successfully quit when under the guidance of doctors, support groups and nicotine replacement therapies. Many people believe that forcing smokers to consume less through deprivation is not a lucrative decision, however, some see it as an opportunity.

Kea Schoenhals, a British Columbia resident, sees the impact of the restrictions on her vaping habits in a positive way.

She began smoking occasionally at age 15 due to peer pressure but never became addicted. With vaping being easier to hide and more accessible for a young person, she did become addicted to it, smoking the previous maximum dose of 50mg. 

But in dealing with the recent nicotine cap, she says, “I really don’t think it changed anything for me, and I got used to it quickly. I think my addiction to vaping is more about having something in my hands, something to do, than in the nicotine, to be honest.”

Like many Canadian smokers, Schoenhals is looking for motivation to put nicotine behind her. According to Statistics Canada, at any given time, one-third of smokers in Canada intend to quit within 30 days. For some, the vaping restrictions are their chance. 

With the potential flavour ban, Schoenhals says, “I personally will definitely be affected by it. I can’t stand tobacco or menthol flavours. If I was rich I would probably be stocking up on vape juice right now.” 

Canada’s vaping restrictions are polarizing the smoking community. It’s now a question of how to react to government legislation that chooses our futures for us, and a question of power dynamics between Health Canada, Big Tobacco and Canadians. The future for smokers across the nation lies in the palm of those with the most money and influence.

“You think about the power that the government has…it’s disgusting. Because sometimes we don’t have any choice but to do what they say,” Leek says.

While there are opportunities for petitions to the government, to have one’s voice heard is not enough. For centuries, tobacco has been one of the largest focuses for globally taxed imports and exports and a focus for marketing and culture. Changes are happening, but in which direction is debatable.

Breanna Milton is a recent addition to Her Campus at Ryerson, and a journalism student with a focus on environmental and cultural studies. She's overjoyed at now having an outlet to publish her stories, and grow as a writer. Since a young age, Breanna would write poems and short stories in her free time. Everything can be made into a story in her eyes. In high school back in Colorado, USA, she was a member of the National English Honors Society. Outside of writing, Breanna has a love for animals, nature, music, and independent movies. She is excited to see what journey Her Campus will take her on.
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