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The current nicotine cap in Canada is 66 mg/ml. Health Canada is proposing lowering that cap to 20 mg/ml - the limit set in the European Union.
Their rationale is simple - there has been a sharp increase in youths vaping, and they want to curb that increase. Health Canada identified the availability of high nicotine vaping products as one of the reasons that youth vaping has increased.
This article presents an analysis of both sides of this argument, and some alternative proposals to the nicotine cap. Before we begin, however, it’s worth noting that we’re not writing this with a totally impartial tone; the nicotine cap is something we’re not sold on.
There is strong evidence that vaping can help smokers quit. This evidence is so strong that Health Canada, itself, notes that completely switching from smoking to vaping reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals.
We’ll delve more deeply into that point as we go along, but one can’t help but think that by reducing the amount of nicotine that’s allowable in vaping products, the Government may actually discourage smokers from switching to vapes. Cigarette addiction is a massive burden on our public health resources. One hopes the Government could find a way to minimize youth vaping without dissuading smokers who are trying to quit by vaping instead.
The dramatic rise in youth vaping is, indeed, cause for concern. Vaping among Canadian teens doubled over the course of 2 years (from 2017-2019). The study which found the increase in teen vaping also found that similar trends can be observed in the U.S., but not in the U.K. One of the study’s conclusions was that this was the result of stricter nicotine laws in the U.K. (among other things).
That’s a pretty frightening increase in the number of teens who are vaping. Some have blamed the popularity and accessibility of JUUL - nicotine salts can have higher concentrations of nicotine than traditional e-juice, and they’re what JUULpods use.
There’s a whole complicated discussion to be had about how nicotine is absorbed by the body, but this isn’t the time or place for that (though it is interesting). JUULs are popular, and they use e-juice with a high concentration of nicotine. A study found that this may contribute to youth vaping. Let’s leave it at that for now.
Where things get interesting is how the rate of cigarette use by youth has been affected. While vape use has increased, cigarette use has decreased - and given that cigarettes are much more harmful than vaping, that’s a good thing. Obviously, we’d rather our youth use no nicotine products at all, but if it’s one or the other, it’s better that they vape.
For a more thorough breakdown on the reports, their methodology, and some of the flaws in thinking, check out Clive Bates’ analysis of Canada’s approach to youth vaping. Note that Clive isn’t exactly an unbiased actor - a lot of his posts are him criticising anti-vaping laws - but his breakdown of the papers is thorough. He brings up some very relevant points.
A point of clarity: the regulations limiting the amount of nicotine to 20 mg/ml have not yet come into effect. We’re still not sure whether or not they ever will.
There are two ways, then, that we can evaluate how these regulations could affect the vape industry. First, the threat of regulation could produce a chilling effect. Manufacturers might limit the supply of vape juice over 20 mg/ml that they produce for the Canadian market, in anticipation that the product will soon be outlawed. In the same vein, vape shops may also limit the amount of product they purchase for resale.
Should regulations limiting nicotine levels come into effect, the vaping industry will lose money. This is accounted for in Health Canada’s own assessment of the situation (found in the Canada Gazette). Their assessment is quite candid about estimated losses to the industry:
“The proposed Regulations would result in total incremental costs for the vaping industry estimated at $452 million present value (PV) over 30 years (or $36.4 million annually). The monetized costs to the vaping industry are associated with the disposal of their stocks of vaping products above 20 mg/ml nicotine, as these would no longer be sold or distributed, and potential industry profit losses.”
Given the millions of dollars in yearly losses that Health Canada itself estimates will occur, you won’t be surprised to learn that industry associations and advocates are not for this change.
Here’s a cynical take: industry advocates are against the change because they don’t want to lose money.
And a less cynical take: industry advocates are against the change because they don’t want people to turn away from vaping and start smoking cigarettes.
Vaping advocates almost always advocate for its uses as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, and as a quitting aid. You’re reading this article on the website for a business called “Cold Turkey” - a name that’s obviously alluding to quitting.
Most industry advocates feel that there are better ways of going about harm reduction, including more restrictive rules about advertising to youth.
At this rate, it’s pretty likely. JUUL has already stopped selling all but two flavours in Canada. The two flavours they still sell? Nicotine and mint, the flavours that can traditionally be found in cigarettes.
There are new regulations in Ontario banning the sale of most flavoured vape juices in all except specialty shops. The flavours that are exempt? Tobacco, mint, and menthol. You get the picture.
This is just one writer’s opinion, but honestly? The Ontario model seems like a good one to follow. Limit available flavours, make them harder to purchase outside of specialty shops, and limit advertising. Reducing nicotine content? That seems like a good way to get people to turn back to cigarettes.
For now? You can still buy nic salts and pods with higher concentrations of nicotine. We have some available at our Saint James vape shop - get them while you can.