Tag Archives: tobacco

‘A desperate act’: Imperial Tobacco Canada under fire for ‘misinformation’ ad campaign

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A major Canadian tobacco company has come under fire for a national advertising campaign that appears to downplay the risks of vaping and accuse the media and anti-tobacco groups of intentionally spreading false information.

Imperial Tobacco Canada, which sells the Vype brand of e-cigarette and is owned by the world’s second largest tobacco company, British American Tobacco, recently launched the campaign in major Canadian newspapers, and on billboards and websites across the country.

The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that the campaign was under investigation by Health Canada and health officials in Quebec to determine if it violated advertising rules

A spokesperson for Health Canada said this week that it deemed no further action was necessary, while Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services says it has not yet made a decision on the advertisements.

The ads show headlines from news stories about vaping, with one of three slogans superimposed over them: “hypocrisy kills,” “quit the lies” and “the dangers of misinformation.”

The headlines used in the campaign are from media outlets largely in the U.S., including The Associated Press, Politico and The Hill, with none from Canada.

Local outlets were also targeted, including an NBC television station in Massachusetts that reported on a school district trying to combat a rise in youth vaping, and a newspaper in San Diego that wrote about county restrictions on vaping.

Ad campaign called a ‘Hail Mary’

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who studies health misinformation, calls the strategy used in the campaign a “classic tobacco industry technique.” 

“They’re using the current conversation about misinformation, about fake news, in order to forward their agenda,” he said. “They are implying that a story about the harms of vaping is misinformation.”

Marketing expert Tony Chapman says he’s surprised the company moved forward with the campaign, calling it a “Hail Mary,” but says there is a deliberate strategy behind the move.

“The reason they’re taking the risk is vaping was their big play … and if vaping ends up in the same penalty box as smoking, you’re talking about billions of dollars of investment down the drain,” he said. 

“So it’s a desperate act, and sometimes when you’re in danger of irrelevancy, risk is better than irrelevancy.” 

In an interview with CBC News, a spokesperson for the company denied the ads were accusing the media of spreading misinformation, hypocrisy or lies and instead were “just a visual” aimed at regulators, adult consumers and anti-tobacco groups. 

University of Waterloo researcher David Hammond says it’s ‘deeply ironic’ that Imperial Tobacco Canada would accuse others of spreading misinformation on the health risks of nicotine products. (CBC)

“We felt it was important to bring the other side of the story, so that both adult consumers and regulators can make informed decisions around vaping,” said Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada. 

“Health Canada continues to believe that vaping — if you’re a smoker, you’re better off vaping.”

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Health Canada said it advises Canadians to seek out information from sources that are independent and rely upon scientific evidence, such as a physician or local, provincial or federal government health officials. 

“The department recognizes that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking for adults who have a dependence on nicotine,” the statement says. 

“However, it is important for Canadians to know that vaping does pose health risks and that the potential short- and long-term effects of vaping remain unknown.” 

Some vaping-related illnesses tied to nicotine e-cigarettes

As of Feb. 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recorded 2,807 hospitalizations related to vaping-related illness and 68 deaths. 

There were 18 cases reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada as of Feb. 18. Six occurred in Quebec, four in Ontario, four in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, one in Alberta and one in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The Imperial Tobacco ad campaign also links to a “facts not fear” website that claims “impulsive regulations” by government and health groups “won’t do anything to reduce youth vaping” and “hysteria” in media coverage over vaping-related illness has “spilled over to Canada.”

Marketing expert Tony Chapman says the company took a risk with the ads because of huge investments in vaping products. (CBC)

It also says vaping-related illness has been linked to THC products and the harmful additive vitamin E acetate, which was identified as a “chemical of concern” by the CDC.

Yet in the U.S., 57 per cent of vaping-related illness cases reported using products that contain nicotine and 14 per cent reported exclusively using nicotine e-cigarettes. In Canada, 10 of the 18 cases reported using nicotine e-cigarette devices only. 

The World Health Organization says e-cigarettes are “harmful to health and are not safe,” but it is “too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them.”

Researcher Timothy Caulfield says the goal of ad the campaign is to create doubt about the relevant science around vaping-associated harms, while exploiting the lack of long-term research on vaping.

“There is an international consensus that there are harms associated with vaping and there have been deaths associated with vaping,” he said. 

“Their broad implication is more suggesting a fraudulent agenda behind the vaping research by using the term ‘misinformation.'”

Rise in youth vaping across Canada

University of Waterloo professor David Hammond, who researches youth vaping, found the number of Canadians aged 16 to 19 who reported vaping in the preceding 30 days rose from 8.4 per cent in 2017 to 14.6 per cent in 2018.

Rates of weekly use climbed from 5.2 per cent to 9.3 per cent over the same period. Hammond says his latest research is showing an even more dramatic increase. 

“Most concerning, the prevalence of using e-cigarettes daily or near daily doubled between 2018 and 2019 alone,” he said.

“The increase in frequent use is consistent with the emergence of high nicotine salt-based products on the Canadian market.”

Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Vype e-cigarettes use nicotine salt technology to deliver high doses of the addictive drug to the user, much like those of popular U.S. company Juul

Rob Cunningham with the Canadian Cancer Society calls the ad campaign ‘entirely hypocritical.’ (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The maximum amount of nicotine content allowed in e-cigarettes in Canada is currently 66 milligrams per millilitre of vaping liquid, according to Health Canada. Vype products contain 57 milligrams per millilitre and Juul contains 59, while previous generations of e-cigarettes sold in Canada typically had upward of 20. 

“It is deeply ironic that Imperial Tobacco would accuse others of spreading misinformation on the health risks of nicotine products,” Hammond said. 

“I suspect that most people will regard this public relations campaign with the same level of credibility as the tobacco industry’s historical claims that nicotine isn’t addictive and smoking did not cause any serious diseases.”

Campaign is ‘standard tobacco industry doublespeak’

Gagnon, with Imperial Tobacco Canada, said health groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation “jumped on the opportunity” of the increase in youth vaping to push an “excessive regulatory agenda in Canada.” 

“We have been wanting to meet with health officials across Canada. They do not want to meet with us. We would rather not do a campaign like that, if I’m honest with you,” he said. 

“After looking at all the regulation that was coming up and what was being said and considered, we thought that we needed to get out and to try to balance the debate and influence a little bit what people believe around vaping.”

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, says the tobacco company has decades of experience in public relations strategies to “oppose effective regulation” and mislead the public. 

He described the ad campaign as “entirely hypocritical.” 

“Imperial Tobacco is laughing all the way to the bank with this whole new generation of young people addicted to e-cigarettes,” he said. 

“This has been an incredible bonanza for them and they want to protect it. They’re in the business of protecting their sales. They have absolutely no credibility.” 

Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada, says the company is trying to ‘balance the debate’ and ‘influence a little bit what people believe around vaping.’ (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Andrew Pipe, board chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and a smoking cessation physician in Ottawa, called the ad campaign “standard tobacco industry doublespeak.”

“It just speaks to the degree to which the tobacco industry swaggers around with almost complete impunity because of the timidity that public agencies have shown for decades in terms of dealing with this industry, which kills 47,000 Canadians a year,” he said. 

“The hypocrisy and duplicity of this industry is unparalleled and it continues to be expressed in these kinds of activities.”

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CBC | Health News

Health Canada, Quebec investigating Imperial Tobacco vaping ad campaign

Health Canada and its provincial counterpart in Quebec are investigating a widely disseminated Imperial Tobacco advertisement on vaping to see whether it violates advertising laws.

The ad in question, which ran on several media platforms, warns of an “epidemic of disinformation” and of “hypocrisy” surrounding vaping. It was launched by Imperial Tobacco, which sells Vype vaping products through its parent company, British American Tobacco.

In an email, the federal health minister’s office said, “inspectors are currently reviewing the ad and the associated website.”

The website for Imperial Tobacco’s “facts not fear” campaign describes vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. It talks about preventing youth from vaping, and mentions vaping-related illnesses.

The federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act makes it illegal to “promote a vaping product, including by means of the packaging, by comparing the health effects arising from the use of the product or from its emissions with those arising from the use of a tobacco product or from its emissions.”

But the “facts not fear” website appears to violate that section of the law on the home page and at least seven times on the three pages accessible from the main site.

For example, a page from the site states, “Health Canada’s website affirms that ‘Vaping is less harmful than smoking.’ “

Eric Gagnon, head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs for Imperial Tobacco, said he was confident the company is respecting the law.

“Everything we do, from our point of view, is legal,” he said in an interview. “We’ll never do anything illegal. I can assure you that the advertisement, the campaign ahead of publishing looked at every detail, and we consider the advertisement to be legal.”

Imperial Tobacco appears to have made slight changes to the campaign’s website in recent days. Originally, the site contained a line stating, “since May 2018, (Imperial Tobacco) has sold, in Canada, about 100,000 Vype devices.”

Quebec anti-tobacco laws, however, ban the promotion of brands or of tobacco manufacturers. The province’s health department has also confirmed it is investigating.

Gagnon said the ads do not promote Vype products. Rather, he explained, the website “brings facts related to vaping.”

Imperial Tobacco sells Vype vaping products through its parent company, British American Tobacco. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

“From our point of view, it’s very legal,” he said.

After originally insisting the Vype logo did not appear on the site, the public relations firm associated with Imperial Tobacco later said mention of the product had been removed.

Mathieu Morissette, a researcher at the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute, said some of the claims on the website could constitute disinformation, including the statement about how could people be forced back to combustible cigarettes since vaping is “on the verge of being regulated to the point where it is no longer viable.”

“That’s probably false,” Morissette said. “For it to no longer be viable, it would have to be not available at all.”

“And to say people would be forced to return to ordinary cigarettes? Not at all. People could decide to stop smoking or to use other products that already exist to stop smoking.”

Morissette also took issue with some of the health claims on the website. He said although current evidence suggests vaping is less harmful than smoking, the comparison can give the impression that vaping isn’t harmful at all.

“If you compare a slap in the face to a punch, you start to believe that a slap in the face doesn’t hurt — when it does,” he said. “It’s not a lie as such, but it’s misleading.”

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CBC | Health News

New ban on tobacco, vape flavours in Massachusetts

Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale of flavoured tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes, after the Republican governor signed a bill Wednesday that responds to recent deaths linked to e-cigarettes and attempts to reduce their appeal to young people.

Anti-smoking groups hailed the ban signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, which outlaws the sale of flavoured vaping products immediately and of menthol cigarettes starting June 1, 2020.

Some states have temporarily banned or restricted flavoured tobacco or vaping products to different degrees, but Massachusetts is the first state with a permanent ban in place, anti-smoking groups say. Especially notable is its ban on menthol, which is among the most popular flavours and has often been exempted from bans.

The bill is a “major step forward,” Baker said, but states can do only so much to address the public health emergency around e-cigarettes and other vaping products. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are the only ones that can address the issues comprehensively, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised for months to approve a national ban in the U.S. on most flavoured e-cigarettes. But in recent weeks his administration cancelled a planned announcement of a ban, and Trump has said he will meet with the vaping industry and medical professionals instead.

“It’s pretty clear there isn’t going to be a federal policy on this anytime soon,” Baker said Wednesday. “So in the absence of that, we had to act.”

The New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, which had opposed the legislation, said in a statement the ban will disproportionately affect communities of colour and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Youth e-cigarette epidemic

Studies have shown menthol cigarettes are consumed disproportionately by young people and minorities, and anti-tobacco groups and health experts have argued menthol has been marketed in particular to African Americans.

The law’s new restrictions on flavoured tobacco products are important because they have helped the traditional smoking market grow and led to the flavoured vaping products popular with youths, state Attorney General Maura Healey said.

“This is not a nanny state effort,” said Healey, a Democrat. “This is a significant public health effort.”

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network said it hoped the new law would send a message to an industry accused of using flavoured products to introduce teenagers to smoking.

“More than 80 per cent of teens who have ever used a tobacco product started with a flavoured product, and the tobacco industry knows this,” the organization said in an emailed statement.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called it “a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavours to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction.”

A vitamin E acetate sample during a tour of the Medical Marijuana Laboratory of Organic and Analytical Chemistry at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, N.Y. Vitamin E acetate was commonly found in cartridges collected from a dozen U.S. patients. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

The law places a 75 per cent excise tax on vaping products and require health insurers, including the state’s Medicaid program, to cover tobacco cessation counselling.

The legislation responds to growing concern about the health effects of vaping products, including deaths whose exact cause is still being investigated.

In September, Baker had declared a public health emergency and ordered a temporary ban on the sale of all vaping products — flavoured and unflavoured. Baker said Wednesday he’ll keep that ban in place until Dec. 11 while his administration drafts additional regulations.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, New York City lawmakers voted to ban flavoured electronic cigarettes after a lawsuit halted a statewide ban.

U.S. health officials said Tuesday they have more evidence that a certain chemical compound is a culprit in a  national outbreak of vaping illnesses.

Researchers analyzed illicit vaping cartridges seized in Minnesota during the outbreak this year, and vaping liquid seized in that state last year. The newer cartridges contained the compound vitamin E acetate, but none of the older samples did.

They also looked at vaping cartridges collected from a dozen patients. Vitamin E acetate was commonly found in those, too.

The study was small, but it echoes other work that found the compound in the damaged lungs of 29 patients across the country. 

 “The findings further support a potential role for vitamin E acetate in causing lung injury associated with vaping products,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a Minnesota health official.

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CBC | Health News

Why Big Oil faces court cases that echo the litigation against Big Tobacco in the ’90s

How much did the oil industry know about the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate? When did they know it? And what did they do with that knowledge? 

Those are the central questions in a series of court cases attempting to hold companies accountable for their role in climate change. 

It’s been called Big Oil’s “Big Tobacco” moment, echoing the famous litigation that exposed how tobacco companies deliberately generated scientific uncertainty even though they knew that cigarettes cause cancer.

“They are brought under very similar legal theory,” said Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the UCLA School of Law. “That is that the companies are creating a public harm or public nuisance by misleading the public about whether their product actually causes harm.”

After years of pretrial wrangling, the first Big Oil case began in civil court in New York on Tuesday. Lawyers for Exxon Mobil face accusations from the state’s attorney general that the company misled shareholders about how it was calculating the cost of future government policies to limit carbon emissions.

Environmental law professor Ann Carlson is following the litigation against the oil industry closely and says the cases have a ‘decent chance’ of success. (UCLA School of Law)

Exxon Mobil has publicly denied the allegations.

“The New York attorney general’s allegations are false,” Exxon Mobil spokesperson Steven Soper told CBC News in an email. “We tell investors through regular disclosures how the company accounts for risks associated with climate change. We are confident in the facts and look forward to seeing our company exonerated in court.”

Meanwhile, a similar investor case is being investigated by the attorney general of Massachusetts.

There are more than a dozen other lawsuits in the U.S. against the industry at various stages in the legal process. Those cases have been launched by municipal and state governments, including New York City, Baltimore, San Francisco and Rhode Island, all attempting to hold oil companies accountable for climate-related damages.

The details of the cases differ, but they share a common thread. 

“They are based on allegations that the oil companies engaged in systematic misrepresentation of information, [that they] kept sort of one set of information internally and then told the public something else,” said Carlson.

In Rhode Island’s complaint against nearly two dozen energy companies, the state describes “a co-ordinated, multi-front effort” by the industry “to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats.” It alleges the companies “have known for decades that those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would be irreversible.”

Canadian cities considering climate litigation

In Canada, there are similar legal rumblings against the industry.

Toronto city council has referred a notice of motion to staff to research “the long-term cost implications of climate change to City of Toronto’s infrastructure and programs.” Staff are also instructed to examine “any legal avenues to pursue compensation for these costs from major greenhouse gas emitters.” 

Victoria is currently getting a legal opinion, which will be offered free to other cities. 

And more than a dozen B.C. municipalities have sent a letter asking various oil companies to pay their share of climate-mitigation costs. 

Andrew Gage is with West Coast Environmental Law group in Victoria, which is urging municipalities to launch court cases against the industry to try to recover damages from sea-level rise and other climate-related impacts. 

“Municipalities can’t afford to not try to clarify the legal obligations of these companies,” he said. “What we’ve suggested is the local governments in B.C. need to be looking at a class action lawsuit that would allow a number of communities to pool their resources and work together to hold these really large global companies accountable.”

What Big Oil knew and when 

The essential argument for most of the lawsuits is that the oil industry knew that its products were affecting the climate, but instead of alerting the public and changing their business model, companies deliberately promoted scientific uncertainty about climate change to delay laws that might limit carbon emissions. 

For evidence, many of the cases rely on a series of internal company documents uncovered by investigative journalists that suggest oil industry scientists and executives were aware, decades ago, that fossil fuel emissions were changing the world’s climate.

Investigative journalist Jelmer Mommers published confidential Shell documents showing the company’s understanding of climate science dating back to the 1980s. (CBC News)


Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers, based in Amsterdam and working for De Correspondent and The Guardian, uncovered documents produced by Shell in the 1980s.

He published a confidential Shell report from 1988 called “The Greenhouse Effect” that contains a dire warning: “By the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.”

Mommers said the document illustrates that the company accepted the climate predictions being made by independent scientists.

“This is a very detailed analysis of what the science at that point is saying about CO2 emissions and about their impact on climate,” he said. “And it’s a very explicit report and issues very strong warnings.”

Mommers also uncovered a film Shell produced in 1991 called Climate of Concern, warning about the risks of climate change and suggesting possible solutions. 

“[Shell] made it as a documentary to be seen by the public,” he said. “They showed it in libraries, in schools, in universities, and the explicit purpose was to sort of issue a warning and tell people that this is going on, this is threatening our future, and we should act on it.”

In 1991, Shell produced a documentary called Climate of Concern to educate the public about the risks of climate change and suggest possible solutions. Jelmer Mommers, a Dutch journalist, found the long-forgotten documentary and released it in 2017. (CBC News)

Mommers said he was amazed by how much the company knew about climate change at the time.

“Already Shell in 1991 could sum up all the facts about climate change, all the threats that we all know by heart nowadays,” he said. “It was very shocking actually to see how much knowledge was already there.”

Shell Canada says the film was part of an education series made by the company’s documentary film unit.

“Shell’s position on climate change has been publicly documented for more than two decades,” spokesperson Jana Masters wrote in an email to CBC News.

Other investigative reporters have published industry documents from Exxon that suggest company officials were aware of the scientific consensus on climate change in the 1970s. 

“There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon-dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” a senior scientist with Exxon told company executives in 1977.

Instead of telling the public what they knew about the impending risks from their products, the court documents accuse the industry of trying to delay potential policy changes by fuelling political uncertainty and climate skepticism. Baltimore’s official court filing states:

“Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes.”

Mommers said the oil companies realized that if governments were to take real action to reduce carbon emissions, it would hurt their business.

‘Emphasize the uncertainty’

An Exxon memo from 1988 acknowledges the climate threat, stating: “The greenhouse effect may be one of the most significant environmental issues for the 1990s,” and that “the principal greenhouse gases are byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.” 

But the same memo also reveals “Exxon’s position” was to “emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions” and to “resist the overstatement and sensationalization of potential greenhouse effect which could lead to noneconomic development of nonfossil fuel resources.” 

Exxon Mobil told CBC News in an email that the news reports based on those internal company documents do not accurately reflect the company’s position on climate change. 

“News reports that claim we reached definitive conclusions about climate change decades before the world’s experts are simply not accurate,” Soper wrote. “Climate change is a serious issue that will require the collective efforts of governments, individuals and companies to address in a meaningful way.”

If one of them succeeds, we’re going to see the floodgates open and all sorts of new cases.– Ann Carlson, environmental lawyer

Shell Canada spokesperson Jana Masters said the company doesn’t believe “the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change.”

“We agree that action is needed now on climate change, so we fully support the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future,” she wrote in an email to CBC.

“We believe that smart policy from government, supported by inclusive action from businesses like ours and from civil society, is the best way to reach solutions and drive progress.”

Ann Carlson, the environmental law professor at UCLA, said she has provided pro bono consultation for some of the municipal cases but is not otherwise involved in the litigation. She said if those cases make it to trial, government lawyers will be able to interrogate oil company executives, which could reveal more information about what the industry knew about climate change and when. 

‘Decent chance of success’

So far, the New York attorney general’s case against Exxon is the only one that is actively unfolding in an open courtroom. The other cases are at various stages in the legal process.

“I think the cases do have a decent chance of success,” said Carlson.

She said the cost to industry could be enormous if companies are forced to help municipalities pay to adapt to rising sea levels, or for the costs of wildfire and storm damage.

And all it would take is one successful case, she said.

“If one of them succeeds, we’re going to see the floodgates open and all sorts of new cases filed by other municipalities, other states, alleging damages caused by the oil companies’ failure to warn, failure to do anything about their own behaviour that was causing climate change.”

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Vapes need same restrictions as tobacco, medical groups tell federal parties

There’s an urgent need for vaping products to be given the same advertising and flavour restrictions as tobacco, a group of health organizations in Canada said in calling for immediate political action.

The appeal came Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa from representatives of:

  • Action on Smoking and Health.
  • Canadian Cancer Society.
  • Canadian Medical Association.
  • Canadian Lung Association.
  • Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac.
  • Heart & Stroke.
  • Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco.
  • Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

“We’ve just unleashed a torrent of addiction amongst young people in Canada through our thoughtless disregard of the need for effective regulation of these products,” Dr. Andrew Pipe, Heart & Stroke board chair and a smoking cessation physician in Ottawa, said in an interview. “Now we’re playing catch-up in Canada, and we’re in an almost unforgivable situation.”

On Wednesday, health officials in London, Ont., announced what’s believed to be the first case in Canada of a respiratory illness linked to vaping. The high-school-age individual used e-cigarettes daily, was initially on life-support and is now recovering at home.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 530 confirmed and probable cases of lung injury related to e-cigarettes as of Sept. 17, including at least seven deaths. The agency said Thursday that based on gender and age information on 373 people, 72 per cent were male and 67 per cent were 18 to 34. 

No single device, ingredient, additive or pathway to illness has been identified in the U.S. investigation.

During the current Canadian election campaign, the health groups involved in Thursday’s news conference called on all parties to commit, within 60 days should they form government, to stop promotions for vaping products on television, radio, billboards, public transit hubs, convenience stores, social media, newspapers and other mainstream media.

The groups said manufacturers are allowed to entice youth and non-smokers with attractive flavours, give the products away, and have no obligations for nicotine limits or health warnings on packages as in this case for tobacco.

In Ontario, advertising of e-cigarettes is currently permitted in convenience stores and gas stations.

“Once we understand what the concern is, then will look at any steps necessary in order to protect the health of our young people,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday. 

Keep on top of symptoms, Health Canada urges

The Canadian Vaping Association said it wants federal, provincial and territorial governments to immediately ban the sale of nicotine e-liquid vape products and all visible marketing outside of adult access environments. The group said it represents vape store owners, not vaping brands. 

“They must be removed from all convenience stores, gas stations or any retail location that is not age restricted,” the association said in a statement.

Health Canada has been urging people who vape to watch for symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain. It has also said health-care professionals should ask patients about their use of e-cigarette products if they have respiratory symptoms.

Health Canada said Thursday it has consulted on proposed new regulatory measures to further restrict vaping product advertising “to protect youth from inducements to using these products, including restricting the display of vaping products at points of sale.”

The U.S. media companies CBS, WarnerMedia, Viacom said they’ll drop e-cigarette advertising, CNBC reported. 

In the U.S., Michigan and New York state have voted to ban flavoured e-cigarettes.

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Canada's fight with Big Tobacco is back on

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Canada's cigarette war has suddenly sprung back to life after years in legal limbo.

There have been a series of stunning developments over the last two weeks in this uniquely Canadian battle for compensation from the tobacco industry for the deaths and disease caused by its products.

Although many of the victims have died since the decades-long drama began, a huge vault of court documents now sits open, revealing long-held industry secrets about the way cigarettes were marketed in Canada.

The action resumed two weeks ago when the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the historic 2015 ruling that three Canadian tobacco companies failed to warn customers about the risks of cigarettes.

Canada's three largest tobacco companies — Imperial Tobacco Canada, JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH) — were ordered to pay almost $ 14 billion to compensate thousands of Quebec smokers who developed cancer and emphysema between 1950 and 1998.

Faced with the renewed threat of a multi-billion dollar payout, two of the companies immediately resumed their legal manoeuvres by applying for creditor protection. By mid-week both Imperial Tobacco Canada and JTI-Macdonald were safely under the court-ordered umbrella, and RBH was assessing its options.

None of these three companies is anywhere near bankruptcy.– Neil Collishaw , research director, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada

Seeking creditor protection is a strategy that Imperial Tobacco Canada has been planning since 2015, according to court documents filed this week.

"Our intentions were always to challenge the judgment," a spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco Canada told CBC News in an email, "as we continue to disagree with the judgment as Canadian consumers and governments have been aware of the health risks associated with smoking for decades, and we should not be held responsible for the personal choices made by adult consumers."

For its part, JTI-Macdonald said the future of the company was at stake.

"If the Quebec Court of Appeal payment order proceeded, it would have resulted in the bankruptcy of our company," a JTI-Macdonald spokesperson said in an email.

The idea that the Canadian subsidiaries of major international tobacco companies are in financial jeopardy was met with skepticism by some observers.  

"None of these three companies is anywhere near bankruptcy," said Neil Collishaw, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, who has been following the case for years.

The impact of this new creditor protection has been profound.

First, it has frozen the long-awaited payments to thousands of Quebec smokers who have developed lung and throat cancer and emphysema. The original plaintiff in the class-action suit, Jean-Yves Blais, died of lung cancer in 2012 just as the trial was starting. Many others have also died.

Jean-Yves Blais was one of the original plaintiffs in the Quebec class action suit against Canada's three largest tobacco companies. Blais died in 2012. (Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health)

At the same time, all 10 provinces, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are fighting their own battles with Big Tobacco in a series of court actions to recover the health-care costs of tobacco-related illness. Now all of those court actions have been suspended.

"They're looking for a sweetheart settlement," said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, who has been following the litigation closely. "They've been ordered by a court in Quebec to pay billions of dollars because of decades of wrongful behaviour causing disease and death on a massive scale. And now they don't want to pay what they've been ordered to pay."

Excerpt from confidential tobacco industry document from 1984 discussing the need to “initiate projects to insure the continued uptake of tobacco products by young Canadians.” (CBC News)

Meanwhile, all of the court activity has created a cache of tobacco company documents that tells a uniquely Canadian version of the tobacco saga.

"It's a treasure trove of previously secret internal documents that really says in black and white how they intentionally were engaging in behaviour that had devastating consequences," said Cunningham.

Convincing young Canadians to start smoking

In a searchable database of 42,000 confidential memos and other documents, it's clear that Canadian tobacco company executives believed the industry might not survive because so many Canadians were quitting smoking.

In 1995, one industry memo warned that "unless we do something this industry will cease to exist."

Getting young people to start smoking was one recommended strategy.

A 1984 marketing memo with the title A Prognosis for the Canadian Cigarette Industry was so sensitive the executive warned his boss that "given the nature of the material you and I now have the only existing copies of this document in the world."

Young Canadians have less and less positive information about smokers and smoking.– Confidential tobacco industry marketing document, 1984

The marketing department employee went on to complain about the lack of role models for young smokers because so few public figures were still openly smoking.

"Young Canadians have less and less positive information about smokers and smoking," he wrote. "Under these conditions, we will get less starting. In fact, these are the conditions which will produce no experimentation."

Page from "Prognosis for the Canadian Cigarette Industry," a confidential tobacco industry document from 1984 released as part of Canadian tobacco litigation. (CBC News)

One of the top three strategies he proposed was to "initiate projects to [ensure] the continued uptake of tobacco products by young Canadians."

The internal tobacco documents also reveal growing sensitivity to bad press and a developing awareness of how to use the media to get the tobacco industry's message across.

"Think about it for a moment," wrote one executive in a confidential memo in 1976. "Every single question from the press, every telephone interview, every invitation to participate in a radio or TV show is a possibility of getting some free time or space to get our message across."

And there was also the option to "sue the journalist and the media even if only for symbolic damages."

"Merely reducing the number of adventurous journalists who would be willing to take the risks associated with signing a grossly biased story would already constitute a major victory," he wrote.

Knew about cancer risk in 1958, document shows

And it's clear from the documents just how long the industry was aware of the health risks.

In 1958, three tobacco industry scientists travelled to laboratories around the U.S. and in Montreal to gather data about the cancer risk. They reported that all but one of the scientists they met on that trip "believed that smoking causes lung cancer if by 'causation' we mean any chain of events which leads finally to lung cancer and which involves smoking as an indispensable link."

Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan concluded that they kept this information to themselves, writing in his 2015 decision, "no one in the Canadian tobacco industry was saying anything publicly about the health risks of smoking outside of corporate walls."

The documents also reveal oddly prescient speculation about future tobacco products that could one day turn the industry's fortunes around.

Perhaps we could develop cigarettes that would not have to be lighted with a flame …–  Confidential tobacco industry document, 1976

"I cannot even speculate on what they are but we must invest significant levels of resources in finding new, positive ways — that may not be cigarettes — to deliver the benefits of tobacco with a positive social and personal context," said one memo from 1995.

"Perhaps we could develop cigarettes that would not have to be lighted with a flame … that would burn without smoke … and that would not leave butts. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But so was Jules Verne's idea of an underwater vessel called Nautilus or of a manned trip to the moon. We could give it a try," another industry executive wrote in 1976.

Now that public health officials are grappling with the new phenomenon of youth vaping, these tobacco documents have become increasingly relevant, said Collishaw.

"People who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

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Tobacco firm's payout in $15B lawsuit on hold after court ruling

One of the cigarette makers that lost an appeal of a landmark $ 15-billion class action lawsuit has obtained a temporary reprieve from compensating 100,000 Quebec smokers after securing creditor protection in an Ontario court.

A judge granted JTI-Macdonald Corp. creditor protection last Friday afternoon.

The Ontario Superior Court decision also suspended until April 5 all legal proceedings against all three companies that lost in the Quebec Court of Appeal earlier this month. Those proceedings include health-care cost recovery lawsuits being pursued in each province.

The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, one of the groups representing Quebec smokers in the lawsuit, called the move a "denial of justice."

"We weren't surprised that they made a legal move," said MarioBujold, strategic adviser for the group. "What surprised us a lot was that they didn't inform us about it in advance.

"They made this request in Ontario, even though the main judgment against them was in Quebec. It was done late on a Friday afternoon, in private, without the other parties involved in these proceedings. That's what surprised us."

Bujold said the council's lawyers will be in the Ontario court on April 4 to contest the ruling.

He said the matter would also be raised at a March 25 session at the Quebec Court of Appeal, which was scheduled before the Ontario decision.

Landmark judgment

On March 1, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a landmark judgment ordering the three firms to pay approximately $ 15 billion in damages to the tens of thousands of smokers.

However, while JTI-Macdonald is under creditor protection, the company won't have to disperse any funds to tobacco victims.

In a statement released Friday, JTI-Macdonald said it needed to seek protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act in order to "protect 500 Canadian jobs and carry on its business operations with minimal disruption.

"We fundamentally disagree with the court decision and are taking all necessary and appropriate measures to defend our lawful business," it said.

In 2015, a Quebec Superior Court justice ruled in favour of two groups representing the Quebec smokers, led by the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, which argued the companies didn't warn their customers about the dangers of smoking.

One group includes individuals who became seriously ill from smoking. The other group is made up of people who say they are unable to quit smoking.

Plaintiffs with cancer who began smoking before January 1976 are to get $ 100,000 each. Those who first lit up after that date are entitled to $ 90,000.

Those with emphysema will receive $ 30,000 in moral damages if they began smoking before Jan. 1, 1976, and $ 24,000 if they started smoking after that date. For the almost one million Quebec smokers who were unable to quit, the breakdown comes out to about $ 130 per person.

Ontario decision 'unacceptable'

Philippe Trudel, one of the lawyers representing tobacco victims in the class action, said the Ontario court's decision to suspend proceedings against the three companies is "unusual."

Bujold said Ontario court's ruling can be extended beyond April 5, and he worries people in the lawsuit will never see any money.

"Companies are very good at finding strategies to avoid paying damages they were ordered to pay."

"The Superior Court in Ontario is suspending the rights recognized by six judges in Quebec. It's unacceptable."

The three companies are also considering appealing the $ 15-billion judgment against them to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Quebec's top court rejects appeal of landmark $15B tobacco ruling

Quebec's Court of Appeal has upheld a Quebec Superior Court ruling in two class-action lawsuits against tobacco companies awarding billions of dollars in damages to 100,000 people.

In the 422-page ruling, the court said that the Superior Court's decision was correct, except for some small technicalities.

The adjustment in damages amounts to about $ 2 million of the approximate $ 15 billion the companies were ordered to pay, the prosecution said Friday.

"It's excellent news for the victims that have been waiting for this day for a long time," said Philippe Trudel, one of the lawyers representing the smokers. 

"We are calling this a total victory on all fronts."

The prosecution estimates the damages the companies will eventually pay out to the smokers will amount to over $ 17 billion. Interest on the damages continues to accrue as the case moves through the court system.

In a statement Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. confirmed it will seek leave to appeal the ruling with the Supreme Court of Canada.

A lawyer representing Imperial Tobacco Canada said the company will review the ruling before considering its next steps, which may include an appeal to the Supreme Court.

JTI-Macdonald Corp. is also considering taking the case to the Supreme Court.

"The government has closely regulated every facet of the tobacco business for decades," the company said in a statement.

"JTI-Macdonald Corp. complies with all Canadian and Quebec laws and regulations and follows a strict code of conduct in the way it does business."

Lise Blais, widow of class representative Jean-Yves Blais, said her husband would have been happy to hear of Friday's ruling.

Watch Lise Blais speak about the appeal court decision:

Lise Blais, widow of class representative Jean-Yves Blais, on landmark tobacco case 0:51

Plaintiffs could see up to $ 100K

In 2015, a Quebec Superior Court justice ruled in favour of two groups representing Quebec smokers, which argued the companies didn't warn their customers about the dangers of smoking.

Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-Macdonald were ordered to pay for punitive and moral damages. The companies appealed the decision in 2016.

"It's a lot of money, but when you look at the number of people concerned in that class action, 100,000 people, it's not that much," said Mario Bujold, strategic adviser for the Quebec Council of Tobacco and Health.

If the judgment is upheld through any further appeals, plaintiffs might expect to see $ 24,000 to $ 100,000, depending on the illnesses they contracted, Bujold told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"It's not that much for people who have lost their quality of lives or who died prematurely."

Lawsuits filed in 1998

The two lawsuits were first filed separately in 1998 and were heard together in 2012.

One suit, known as the Blais file, involves individuals who became seriously ill from smoking. The other, the Létourneau file, was launched by a group whose members say they are unable to quit smoking.

Some 76 witnesses testified over 251 days of hearings. Nearly 43,000 documents were deposited as evidence, including internal tobacco company documents that showed smokers didn't know or understand the risks associated with cigarettes.

In June 2015, Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan wrote in his 276-page ruling that the tobacco companies chose profits over the health of their customers.

The case was believed to be the biggest class action in Canada's history.

In his judgment, Riordan concluded that the tobacco industry has known since the 1950s that cigarettes cause lung cancer.

JTI-Macdonald issued a statement minutes later, saying it "strongly believes that the evidence presented at trial does not justify the court's conclusions."

"Since the 1950s, Canadians have had a very high awareness of the health risks of smoking. That awareness has been reinforced by the health warnings printed on every legal cigarette package for more than 40 years."

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'Troubling signs': Health Canada to review tobacco strategy as smoking rate spikes

Health Canada is looking for outside experts to review its tobacco control strategy — a federal program that appears to have hit a wall after years of helping to drive down smoking rates.

According to a posting on Merx, a website used by Ottawa to list outstanding government tenders, Health Canada is asking contractors to prepare a report on the "value for money" of the longstanding, multi-million-dollar program that has sought to reduce the number of smokers in this country. The review would look back at how well the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy (FTCS) performed between 2001 and 2017.

The number of Canadian smokers aged 25 and up hit 16 per cent of the population in 2017, up from 13 per cent two years earlier, according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada.

The FTCS has spearheaded several initiatives meant to convince Canadians to quit, including graphic warnings on cigarette packages, a toll-free 'quitline' offering smokers access to advice and resources to help them kick cigarettes, and ad campaigns directed at young people. The Liberal government has earmarked a further $ 330 million over five years for the FTCS.

"The objective of the requirement is to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of the FTCS … investigating the fiscal benefits that accrue from reductions in smoking prevalence against the cost of implementing such policies," the tender reads.

"This retrospective analysis will be used to update the fiscal success of new initiatives as they are implemented and support ongoing policy decisions regarding the implementation of the best 'value for money' programs in the future."

David Hammond of the University of Waterloo, one of the nation's foremost experts on tobacco controls, said this proposed historical review should take a backseat to an urgently needed, fundamental "rethink" of the current tobacco control program.

Hammond said there have been some substantial changes in the nicotine market since the FTCS was launched, with the recent legalization of e-cigarettes and the introduction of more sophisticated vaping devices.

David Hammond, a professor at the University of Waterloo and an expert on tobacco control policy, said the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy needs a re-think in a changing nicotine market. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"There's definitely a need for renewal. We have a massively changing market in terms of e-cigarettes and despite it all we still have 5 million Canadians who continue to smoke," he said.

"Do we need a new strategy? Yes. We need one quickly. In terms of contracting out — to figure out how the last one did — evaluation, reflection is important but we have some new challenges and I'd rather us look forward than backwards.

"There's not too many areas in tobacco control or public health where we have extra resources laying around … I don't think we can stand around looking over our shoulder for too long because this market is moving so quickly."

Health Canada defended the proposed external review in a statement to CBC News, saying it's standard for any federal program.

"The government of Canada is committed to evaluating our programs to ensure that we are delivering value to Canadians," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"This ‎contract is intended to bring in experts to help us evaluate the value of the previous tobacco strategy, and the benefits it has delivered to Canadians. This is a standard part of regulatory and policy development. The results of this evaluation will inform future strategies and policies."

The strategy, first launched in 2001, has been credited by some experts with helping to substantially reduce the number of traditional cigarette smokers.

The number of smokers aged 15 and over peaked at nearly 50 per cent of the population in 1966 before dropping to 22 per cent in 2001.

As of 2017, that figure stood at roughly 15 per cent — a number unchanged since the last Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey in 2015.

'Have we stalled?'

But last year saw the uptick in the number of Canadians aged 25 and up smoking cigarettes, while the percentage of Canadians aged 25 or older who reported having used cannabis in 2017 hit 13 per cent, up from 10 per cent in 2015.

The government aims to drive down the overall smoking rate in Canada to less than five per cent by 2035.

"Have we stalled? It's possible," said Hammond. "We've seen some troubling signs among youth, and that's a big concern.

"If we see another year or so of data that … suggest the declines have stalled or youth smoking is picking up, then we really need to understand this new dynamic market much better."

Beyond the plain tobacco packaging regulations the federal government is set to introduce, Hammond said the federal government could pursue more restrictions on where cigarettes can be sold. "You can still buy cigarettes more places than you can buy milk," he said.

Hammond also said Ottawa should pursue new regulatory controls over cigarettes themselves.

"Where we've struggled is on the product side. We're really good at telling people not to smoke. We're pretty good at telling them where not to smoke. We're not great at actually helping them to quit," he said.

"Where we've really dropped the ball is in dealing with the product. We've done nothing to make cigarettes less harmful or addictive."

Rob Cunningham, senior policy adviser for the Canadian Cancer Society, holds up a proposed standardized cigarette package. The federal government has mandated plain packaging for tobacco firms. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

New data from the U.S., he said, suggest mortality from smoking is actually higher than it was 50 to 60 years ago, when cigarettes were far more popular in the West.

"Cigarettes are no less lethal," he said. "It's really gotten out of hand."

He suggested Ottawa could do more to "incentivize people to get off smoke" by championing e-cigarettes and vaping products as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes. "We have to get off smoke."

"When I see an adult vaping I think, 'Good for you,'" he said, adding that, unlike younger users, the vast majority of adult e-cigarette smokers are people who have quit smoking cigarettes.

Health Canada only recently acknowledged that vaping is safer than cigarettes and a viable smoking cessation tool.

"Except for nicotine, vaping products typically only contain a fraction of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco or tobacco smoke, and at lower levels. Switching completely from tobacco cigarettes to vaping products will reduce a person's exposure to many toxic and cancer-causing chemicals," a spokesperson with Health Canada said.

But despite the promise of these devices for former smokers, a spike in usage rates in the U.S. has health experts concerned that young people are picking up a nicotine addiction from vaping devices before turning to traditional cigarettes to get their fix.

While numbers are scarce in Canada because the products were only recently made legal, the number of U.S. high school students who say they've used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days is 78 per cent higher this year than last year, according to the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey, a joint study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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U.S. Centers for Disease Control head resigns amid controversy over tobacco stock

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resigned because of financial conflicts of interest, government officials announced Wednesday.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s complex financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult to do her job, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

Alex Azar, who was sworn in as head of the department Monday, accepted her resignation.

Fitzgerald’s investments have “imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as CDC Director,” HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said in the statement. “Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”

When Fitzgerald took the job, she owned a range of stocks, including holdings in beer and soda companies, the tobacco company Philip Morris International, and a number of health-care companies. She said she sold some, but still has others because of financial restrictions that prevent her from selling them.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that a month after becoming CDC director, Fitzgerald’s financial manager bought shares in Japan Tobacco and the drug companies Bayer and Merck & Co. Those stocks were later sold, Politico reported.

Fitzgerald’s former boss already gone

Democrats, who had criticized her appointment due to her previous involvement in partisan politics, including two unsuccessful runs as a Republican candidate for a seat in the U.S. House, questioned her ability to effectively carry out her duties as a result.

“I am concerned that you cannot perform the role of CDC director while being largely recused from matters pertaining to cancer and opioids, two of the most pervasive and urgent health challenges we face as a country,” Democratic Senator Patty Murray wrote in a letter to Fitzgerald that was made public in December.

Fitzgerald came to the agency after six years as the head of Georgia’s health commission.

Her appointment last year was announced by Tom Price, who held the HHS post before Azar, but was forced to step down himself due to an expenses controversy.

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