The newest nicotine product to spark old fears – #podcast

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Let’s go back to 2019 before the pandemic one of the biggest health concerns out there was the rising number of teens who had started vaping ecigarettes were a fairly new product from tobacco companies at the time and now there’s another one about a month ago something called

Zic Hit shelves in Canada it’s a nicotine pouch a little white bag with synthetic nicotine inside you tuck it up under your lip and it dissolves into your gum just like vaping this product has some anti-smoking Advocates really worried so Health reporter Carly weeks is on the show and she’s going to

Explain why people are criticizing Health Canada again for its regulation of an addictive substance and Why teens in particular might be at risk I’m manaram and willms and this is the decel from the globe in Mail Carly thank you so much for being here oh anytime I guess we should really start by explaining why do tobacco companies say that they created this product in Canada right now there’s one nicotine pouch that’s recently been approved and it’s it’s distributed by Imperial tobacco Canada essentially what

Imperial tobacco is saying is that this is you know nicotine replacement product just like you know a gum or a Loz or a patch the kind of thing we’ve seen for a couple of decades it’s out there to help people stop smoking and um it’s a sort

Of a a less risky way uh to get people who have that addiction to nicotine the satisfaction for their craving without all of the health risks that come with tobacco okay so so if they’re kind of like nicotine gum in that sense so they’re sold at pharmacies I would

Imagine interestingly uh this is where the products start to diverge so uh traditionally the nicotine replacement therapy Market has been dominated by products made by pharmaceutical companies who sell them Ines I think that’s probably where most of us have become sort of familiarized with seeing them right near the Pharmacy Counter in

This case these products with the exception of Quebec where I understand they’re sold Ines only in the rest of Canada these products are being sold in convenience stores and gas stations um there is apparently an online market for nicotine pouches in general and basically anyone of any age can have

Access to these products is is sort of the concern here okay so there’s no there’s no age restriction then on who can buy these products exactly these products were approved as a natural Health Products in Canada and this is a very specific sort of subset of products

That are regulated by Health Canada so it’s not a drug it’s not a tobacco it’s not a vaping product it’s a natural health product Natural Health Products um have been regulated in Canada for a number of years in a different manner than they are in many other countries so

Countries like the US for instance um these products are often sold like Natural Health Products homeopathic remedies they’re often sold without sort of any regulatory oversight the Canadian government decided that it would start analyzing the safety and efficacy data um and actually sort of give each of these products their unique number um

Sort of this idea that we’re making the products that are being sold to Canadians safer and we’re making sure that they’re effective these rules have come under a lot of criticism though for really not um requiring a very high bar for evidence so in essence in order to have

A natural health product approved all you really need to do is show that there’s a historic usage of these products so the regulatory bar many would argue is not very high which is enabled these nicotine pouches to sort of piggyback on The Wider market for nicotine replacement products so

Basically if it’s up to 4 milligrams of nicotine it can be approved as a natural health product in Canada and essentially can be sold virtually anywhere wow and so you said four milligrams of nicotine so that’s what’s in these these little pouches I guess how does that compare to

What is in a cigarette Carly in terms of nicotine content I mean I it depends sort of like when brand to brand and that kind of thing we’ve certainly seen in the ecigarette market for instance um ecigarettes that have had you know many times that 4 milligram Mark so 4

Milligrams is not particularly high but for someone who is not used to consuming nicotine that is certainly more than enough um to you know become addicted uh what are the health consequences that we know of using these pouches so even if it’s you know four milligrams of

Nicotine what what is the effect that’s going to have on someone nicotine is one of the most addictive substances that you know that on earth right um obviously that’s why the tobacco industry has maintained its hold even though people know it’s deadly they continue to smoke right um so on its own

Nicotine can be deadly in in and of itself when you separate it out from tobacco so especially you know if young children ingest it it’s a poison um it’s really I think when we start to get into you know the four milligrams of usage and and things like that say if you’re

You know a teenager in high school who is being exposed to these kinds of products the risks are not necessarily about the the poison aspect although certainly that is on the radar the risk really is about the addictive quality of this and I think this is where we get

Into the weeds of this whole debate so is this being used as a less risky alternative to cigarettes or is this a way to introduce young people to the world of products that contain nicotine like basically is this a way to introduce people to the much wider market for a higher concentration

Nicotine products that contain tobacco and are known to cause cancer and and all kinds of other harms why do people say that these nicotine pouches are are also targeting teenagers I had a back and forth exchange with Imperial tobacco this week they maintained that their uh commitment is to you know getting less

Risky alternatives to smoking in the hands of people um they’re really aimed at reaching the adult smoker market and they also claim that the advertising campaigns the marketing that they’re doing is no different from what you might see for a nicotine gum but however

I think you just need to take a look at some of the tactics they’re employing to see that these two things are not the same um so for instance you know a lot of the advertisements and social media campaigns that are out there for the nicotine pouch that’s on the market in

Canada are really kind of evoking a lifestyle so you know it’s like a bunch of like young good-look people all like at a restaurant that’s like really well lit that looks like you know that sort of that that fun atmosphere that’s surrounding them and then you know one

Of the young men at the table just slips this nicotine pouch in his mouth and it’s marketed as discreet and convenient if you look back at some of the vintage cigarette ads as I have done this week all featuring like young attractive people you know sometimes it’s like it’s

A cowboy with his you know hat on beside a truck or it’s you know like a couple in a loving embrace it’s really selling a lifestyle this is not really about selling uh smoking sensation yeah well it’s interesting too like just from when I’m looking at the the packages pictures

Of the packages right they’re like they’re very colorful they’re bright like they honestly they it kind of evokes more candy than it does like a cigarette right definitely yes young people are being exposed to these colorful in- yourface ads online because they’re definitely being targeted to people I’ve received them in my own

Instagram account just targeted ads since I’ve started doing research on this topic you know so whether it’s on your phone or in real life you know young people are definitely being exposed to these ads and I think the concern is where is that going to lead

Us what do they taste like uh this is actually a great and probably one of the most fundamental questions to answer um apparently these taste great I’ve not tried them myself I’m not a nicotine or tobacco user but these products come in a variety of very appealing flavors you

Know so like mint and Tropic Breeze and you know even the names of the flavors kind of evoke like a fun sort of like a lifestyle um the Rob Cunningham from the Canadian Cancer Society was remarking to me like Tropic breeds is not a flavor it’s like an aspiration so you know the

The whole idea of flavors if you ask Imperial tobacco Canada what they will say is that flavors are identified as very important to the adult Market they want a produ that doesn’t taste Bland or like tobacco they want something that tastes appealing okay but what we also

Know from Plenty of evidence and this is certainly true with ecigarettes is that young people report flavors as being one of the top components that sort of is getting them to use ecigarettes in the first place so the idea is that if these flavors were Stripped Away young people

Would likely not be using a lot of the ecigarettes that are out there if it tasted like tobacco you know they would say this is not for me this is what has prompted many any provinces to outright ban uh flavored vaping products saying that this is just too dangerous and

Risky knowing that young people in survey after survey will cite flavors as the reason that they continue to use these products so flavors especially those that are like fruit candy flavors those kinds of things um they seem very much designed to draw in young people despite the the protestations of tobacco

Companies okay so there’s definitely this concern around young people using them Carly but I guess do we know if teens are in fact actually using these pouches well we know from around the world is that uh the market is very robust among young people and it seems as though particularly among young men

In other countries the usage has sort of gone off the charts and it’s been so significant um that the Netherlands recently banned the sale of nicotine pouches outright saying that these are just you know too dangerous these are not smoking cessation tools basically denying all of the tobacco industry’s

Arguments saying that you know this this product represents a danger to Public Health other countries have talked about looking at banss um the UK there’s been a recent expose by the guardian there looking at how you know Instagram influencers are being paid to promote these products so it’s kind of like a

Wild west where you know the popularity is taking off and Regulators are chasing after trying to figure out how they can close this barn door I mean this may be an obvious question Carly but like how is this legal how are you able to Market and sell a nicotine product to to kids

It’s surprising in many ways but really what the toac industry has done is kind of take advantage of existing rules uh to to get into this Marketplace so when I was speaking to the Canadian Cancer Society about this earlier this week they basically explained like look we’ve

Had these rules in place this Natural Health product uh these regulations in place for many years and in those rules it certainly is you know legal to sell nicotine containing products to anyone it’s not been a problem up until now and I think what the tobacco industry

Realized is that we have an opportunity here to use these rules that makes it completely legal for us to sell these products to advertise them to do whatever at to any age and so we should point out yeah this is what they’re doing is completely legal um health

Advocacy groups are saying this is textbook you know nicotine addiction 101 for young kids we need to get these things regulated yesterday we’ll be back after this message so yeah can we put this into a broader context Kari like what are the smoking rates in Canada these days yeah

Certainly smoking rates are at historic low so if you look back to like the 1950s the 1960s you know as many as half of people smoked in Canada it was you know incredible that’s really be before we understood um the true harms now um most recent data from 2021 shows that

About 12% of Canadians 15 and older are current smokers uh that’s 14% of males 11% of females and only about 9% of males and 8% of females smoke daily so still high and you know this year alone estimated that 23,000 people will die from lung cancer it’s an incredibly

Deadly disease so even though his you know cigarette usage has gone down um it’s still such a high burden of disease from tobacco vaping is is sort of where a lot of the concern is regarding use because there’s so many um restri on Tobacco on the sale the marketing

Advertising um so really young people are not sort of um becoming introduced to smoking cigarettes like they were you know back in the day now it really is ecigarettes so if you look at some of the really alarming data that’s come out um again 2021 data about one in three

Canadian students uh in grades 7 to 12 saying they had ever tried an ecigarette W one in three that does seem pretty high yes and when you get to the older grade so you know you’re in that age of risk-taking students in grades uh 10 to

12 about 1 in four grade 10 to 12 students are you know use ecigarettes on a monthly basis and that’s a really sort of stunning metric even if you’re using it monthly experts say that is sort of enough of a pattern of use to indicate that you’re at very high risk of

Becoming sort of addicted for life I mean those are the years if you’re going to develop an addiction to nicotine the chances are it is going to to develop when you’re in those critical high school years where you’re taking risks and you’re very prone to succumbing to

Peer pressure it’s not you know a 35-year-old who’s you know trying a nicotine pouch for the first time so that is why there is such alarm over these high rates of ecigarette usage what’s Health Canada’s track record been on on regulating tobacco and nicotine Canada has been a world leader in the

Fight to bring smoking rates down uh we were the first country in the world to introduce graphic warning labels on cigarette packages um we’ve led the way in a number of other ways and you can just see the evidence in the smoking rates declining to where they are now

There is a goal to bring the smoking rates down to 5% I believe it’s by 2035 um tobacco industry uh Executives will say the only way to get there is by embracing the use of nicotine pouches um and this is where we get to health canis faltering is it seems to be on

Responding to new threats um you know things that are sort of happening and being really reactive to them you know tobacco was on the market for how many decades has cost how many you know hundreds of thousands of lives in Canada Alone um there is actually still an

Ongoing Court battle to decide just how much the tobacco companies owe provinces for health care costs how many billions um and so the argument here is that why are we showing up late to the party again you know we have a chance to be proactive here um and to sure get

Smoking cessation devices into the hands of people who who legitimately need them but keep them out of the hands of children okay Carly it does feel a little bit like we’ve had a very similar conversation before like I’m thinking about vaping knee cigarettes they’ve only I guess been on the market for

About a decade or so but I do remember like we’ve had conversations over the last few years about kids and vaping and the dangers there uh I guess what are the lessons that we learn from that um it would appear very few lessons were learned because it’s really interesting

When you look back at the ecigarette market and how that exploded so places like Jewel that have you know rose up and really sort of capture this youth Market by doing exactly what we’ve already talked about you know um selling sort of Lifestyle sponsoring events concerts um you know giveaways doing all

Kinds of like really cool product placement paying influencers I mean you name it the e cigarette industry has done it like the candy colored packages um neon sort of advertisements like really sort of um and the flavors too right all the the candy flavors the flavors the flavors have remained one of

The biggest comp opponents that have like sort of gotten people through that door like the door has been opened by the advertising the the flavors sort of are really what seems to be what um or that driving force to getting people to use these products and keep using them

And so it was really interesting to and and sort of troubling to watch how this unfolded in Canada so ecigarettes for the longest time remained unregulated uh it was you know they were simply were not legal and eventually the government was pressured into creating a regulatory regime to govern aping it’s still not

Quite done they’ve promised to ban flavors they haven’t done so like there’s a bunch of problems still with the existing legislation but now we’re watching it play out again with nicotine pouches so are they going to have to you know create a regulatory regime each time the tobacco industry comes out with

A new product if so it’s going to do a lot of harm because there’s other products that are on the market already elsewhere that are that have been promised to come here so there’s the nicotine pouches are just one of a number of products that are on the

Horizon that the government is going to have to contend with right so so now these pouches are here uh and as you’ve mentioned Cari they’re in a a different category than cigarettes and ecigarettes right they’re they’re classified as a natural health product so so I guess what are the rules around selling the

Nicotine pouches according to health Canada these products are supposed to be labeled as for 18 plus um you know that you shouldn’t take it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding that kind of thing um the labels that I’ve seen I think there’s you know some small print about

This is being a you know nicotine replacement product this may not be right for everyone but the main thing you really see are the candy colored outer shell of the package and the the name emblazoned on the front that’s kind of really the the the the message that

You get from these products it’s kind of really evocative of like that yeah candy colored sort of fun looking package visually it is quite appealing but is there is there any way to make sure that the label is being respected and and it’s not being sold to anyone under 18

Yeah no in in fact there’s not like the the tobacco companies will tell you the government will tell you you know there’s there’s no legal mandate to sell this to people who are over 18 at all um in fact it’s it’s quite legal to to do

Just the opposite to sell it to kids now convenience store owners and associations and the tobacco industry say that’s not what’s happening they’re they’re being responsible but you know obviously the fact that there’s no way to actually enforce these labels there’s no legal authority to do so um is a huge

Problem and and and it again kind of underscores the fact that the the problems with the current Natural Health product regulations which kind of you know give this guise of being natural and good and safe when in fact you know we can have this kind of thing

Happen Okay so now we’re at this place where we we’ve got nicotine pouches being being sold I guess what do anti-smoking Advocates what do they think that Health cada should actually be doing in order to regulate these and and and make sure that they don’t end up

In the hands of kids I mean they’re saying basically stop the sale um you know pull the license get these things off the market um or make it prescription only once we can deal with the immediate threat then create sort of regulations around this close these loopholes that allow uh nicotine

Containing products to be sold legally to children so before we end here Carly I guess I I just want to come back to the big picture of how bad nicotine addictions can be right because if Health Canada has so much information on this if we’ve known this from decades

Past how bad it can be uh I guess why wouldn’t we just make all nicotine products only available at pharmacies or or with a prescription or something like have a kind of intense regulation around it MH that is a really good question I mean I think that some of this comes

Down to Simply you know not recognizing the threat for what it is for not being proactive enough I mean I think governments in general are often you know sort of criticized for being too reactive and I think that’s sort of is what is at play here I don’t think

Anyone in the government wants to see kids become newly addicted to products but I think that for one reason or another you know whoever sort of is in in charge of looking at this area maybe has not rec recognize the risk for what it is or has not been able to Garner

Enough of a response um and certainly you know it’s led to the situation where you know you can you can bet that there’s young people in Canada using these products who who will become addicted to nicotine for Life Carly thank you so much for taking the time to

Speak with me today thank you for having me that’s it for today I’m man ramman welms our producers are meline white Cheryl Souther and Rachel Levy McLaughlin David Crosby edits the show Adrien Chong is our senior producer and Angela Penza is our executive editor thanks so much for

Listening and I’ll talk to you tomorrow

Health Canada recently approved the sale of Zonnic, a nicotine pouch that you pop into your mouth. Even though its maker – Imperial Tobacco Canada – says it’s meant to help people quit smoking, anti-smoking advocates are worried that it will actually get young people addicted to nicotine. This is in part because of how Health Canada is regulating it.

Carly Weeks is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail and she explains the details around the regulation of this product and why it’s not being treated like the last nicotine product that got teens hooked, vaping.

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