Opinion Editorial -

The Alberta government must be commended for following the advice of its senior health officials in its concerted efforts to combat the spread of the corona virus.  By allowing its Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw to lead the charge against this deadly virus, the provincial government has avoided an enormous public health disaster.  If not for this sensible decision, the corona virus could have exacted a much larger toll on public health and easily crippled our healthcare system.  As we begin to rebuild our province, we must apply this same decisiveness to other public health issues that threaten our collective health and the well-being of our most vulnerable.

Alarmingly, another public health disaster is looming and it involves 50,000 school-aged youth in Alberta who are now using vaping products.  Vaping products contain high doses of nicotine that can easily result in a long-term addiction and contribute to tobacco use and dependence.  Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet with two-thirds of smokers becoming clinically dependent. Youth who vape are four times as likely to become smokers according to the latest published evidence.

Tobacco use kills 4,000 Albertans and 37,000 Canadians annually—representing the largest avoidable cause or premature death in the country.  One in every two long-term smokers will die from tobacco use.  Tobacco kills more Canadians than all other forms of problem substance use combined.

Tobacco and vaping companies should not be allowed to target youth with predatory marketing campaigns.  However millions of Canadian youth are currently subjected to an onslaught of broadcast, print, retail, social media and out-of-home advertising of nicotine vaping products.

Nicotine vaping products should not be displayed or promoted in any location where children are allowed or in any medium that is accessible to youth.  Marketing restrictions on vaping products should be meshed with those on tobacco to the greatest extent possible including a comprehensive flavour ban.

The Alberta government’s response to the spread of youth vaping should match its responsible approach to the control the spread of the corona virus.  The Alberta government simply needs to follow the advice of its top public health official, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

In a January statement, Canada’s chief medical health officers recommended a number of effective, evidence-based policy measures to combat the explosive rise in youth vaping.  In the statement, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and her provincial and national counterparts urged provincial governments to implement the following policy measures:

  • A comprehensive ban on flavoured vaping products.
  • Ban retail advertising of vaping products with an exception for specialized vaping product stores that prohibit minors from entering.
  • Require vape shops to be licensed and subject to routine inspections and compliance checks.
  • Extend provincial smoking restrictions to include vaping.
  • Tax vaping products to help discourage youth from starting.

These measures will better align restrictions on vaping products with existing restrictions on tobacco products.  Effective tobacco legislation has contributed to all-time lows in tobacco use in Canada.

Last fall, the Alberta government completed a review of its tobacco legislation with the intent of bringing forward new vaping legislation.  In its February throne speech, the government pledged to follow through by passing new vaping legislation in the current session of the Legislative Assembly.  Alberta is currently the only province without legislation to protect kids from nicotine vaping products.

We urge the Alberta government to approve strong and effective legislation that will adequately protect Alberta youth from tobacco and nicotine vaping products and their perpetrators.

Alberta kids deserve first-class protection from tobacco and vaping products.  The Alberta government has 50,000 good reasons to take the advice of Dr. Deena Hinshaw to avert yet another public health disaster.

Protection delayed is protection denied.

Please visit www.protectalbertakids.ca to connect with your MLA on this important issue.