That the government create a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund to resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams, allowing Canadians wide-ranging access to health care.
That the government recognize and support the continued adoption of virtual care and address the inequitable access to digital health services by creating a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank and by expediting broadband access to all Canadians.
That the government act on our collective learned lessons regarding our approach to seniors care and create a national demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer and establish a Seniors Care Benefit.
That the government recognize the unique risks and financial burden experienced by physicians and front line health care workers by implementing the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, by extending eligibility of the Memorial Grant and by addressing remaining administrative barriers to physician practices accessing critical federal economic relief programs.
Five months ago COVID-19 hit our shores. We were unprepared and unprotected. We were fallible and vulnerable. But, we responded swiftly.
The federal government initiated Canadians into a new routine rooted in public health guidance.
It struggled to outfit the front line workers. It anchored quick measures to ensure some financial stability.
Canadians tuned in to daily updates on the health crisis and the battle against its wrath.
Together, we flattened the curve… For now.
We have experienced the impact of the first wave of the pandemic. The initial wake has left Canadians, and those who care for them, feeling the insecurities in our health care system.
While the economy is opening in varied phases – an exhaustive list including patios, stores, office spaces, and schools – the health care system that struggled to care for those most impacted by the pandemic remains feeble, susceptible not only to the insurgence of the virus, but ill-prepared to equally defend the daily health needs of our citizens.
The window to maintain momentum and to accelerate solutions to existing systemic ailments that have challenged us for years is short. We cannot allow it to pass. The urgency is written on the faces of tomorrow’s patients.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the government announced intentions to ensure all Canadians would be able to access a primary care family doctor. We knew then that the health care system was failing.
The pandemic has highlighted the criticality of these recommendations brought forward by the Canadian Medical Association. They bolster our collective efforts to ensure that Canadians get timely access to the care and services they need. Too many patients are succumbing to the gaps in our abilities to care for them. Patients have signaled their thirst for a model of virtual care. The magnitude of our failure to meet the needs of our aging population is now blindingly obvious. Many of the front line health care workers, the very individuals who put themselves and their families at risk to care for the nation, are being stretched to the breaking point to compensate for a crumbling system.
The health of the country’s economy cannot exist without the health of Canadians.
Long wait times have strangled our nation’s health care system for too long. It was chronic before COVID-19. Now, for far too many, it has turned tragic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services came to a halt. As health services are resuming, health care systems are left to grapple with a significant spike in wait times. Facilities will need to adopt new guidance to adhere to physical distancing, increasing staff levels, and planning and executing infrastructure changes. Canada’s already financially atrophied health systems will face significant funding challenges at a time when provincial/territorial governments are concerned with resuscitating economies.
The CMA is strongly supportive of new federal funding to ensure Canada’s health systems are resourced to meet the care needs of Canadians as the pandemic and life continues. We need to invigorate our health care system’s fitness to ensure that all Canadians are confident that it can and will serve them.
Creating a new Health Care and Innovation Fund would focus on resuming the health care system, addressing the backlog, and bringing primary care, the backbone of our health care system, back to centre stage.
The CMA will provide the budget costing in follow-up as an addendum to this submission.
RECOMMENDATION 1 Creating a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund
It took a global pandemic to accelerate a digital economy and spark a digital health revolution in Canada. In our efforts to seek medical advice while in isolation, Canadians prompted a punctuated shift in how we can access care, regardless of our location or socio-economic situation. We redefined the need for virtual care.
During the pandemic, nearly half of Canadians have used virtual care. An incredible 91% were satisfied with their experience. The CMA has learned that 43% of Canadians would prefer that their first point of medical contact be virtual.
The CMA welcomes the $240 million federal investment in virtual care and encourages the government to ensure it is linked to a model that ensures equitable access.
A gaping deficit remains in using virtual care. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify digital opportunities to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required across provincial/territorial boundaries. To take full advantage of digital health capabilities, it will be essential for the entire population, to have a functional level of digital health literacy and access to the internet.
The continued adoption of virtual care is reliant on our ability to educate patients on how to access it. It will be further contingent on consistent and equitable access to broadband internet service.
Create a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank
Virtual care can’t just happen. It requires knowledge on how to access and effectively deliver it, from patients and health care providers respectively. It is crucial to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy, with the appointment of the Financial Literacy Leader within the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, can serve as a template for digital health literacy.
We recommend that the federal government establish a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank to develop indicators and measure the digital health of Canadians, create tools patients and health care providers can use to enhance digital health literacy, continually monitor the changing digital divide that exists among some population segments.
Pan-Canadian broadband expansion
It is critical to bridge the broadband divide by ensuring all those in Canada have equitable access to affordable, reliable and sustainable internet connectivity. Those in rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities are presently seriously disadvantaged in this way. With the rise in virtual care, a lack of access to broadband exacerbates inequalities in access to care. This issue needs to be expedited before we can have pride in any other achievement.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Embedding virtual care in our nation’s health care system
Some groups have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Woefully inadequate care of seniors and residents of long-term care homes has left a shameful and intensely painful mark on our record. Our health care system has failed to meet the needs of our aging population for too long.
The following two recommendations, combined with a focus on improving access to health care services, will make a critical difference for Canadian seniors.
A demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer
The Canada Health Transfer (CHT) is the single largest federal transfer to the provinces and territories. It is critical in supporting provincial and territorial health programs in Canada. As an equal per-capita-based transfer, it does not currently address the imbalance in population segments like seniors.
The CMA, hand-in-hand with the Organizations for Health Action (HEAL), recommends that a demographic top-up be transferred to provinces and territories based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population, with the federal contribution set to the current share of the CHT as a percentage of provincial-territorial health spending. A top-up has been calculated at 1.7 billion for 2021. Additional funding would be worth a total of $21.1 billion to the provinces and territories over the next decade.
Seniors care benefit
Rising out-of-pocket expenses associated with seniors care could extend from 9 billion to 23 billion by 2035. A Seniors Care Benefits program would directly support seniors and those who care for them. Like the Child Care Benefit program, it would offset the high out-of-pocket health costs that burden caregivers and patients.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Ensuring that better care is secured for our seniors
The federal government has made great strides to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Amidst the task of providing stability, there has been a grand oversight: measures to support our front line health care workers and their financial burden have fallen short.
The CMA recommends the following measures:
1. Despite the significant contribution of physicians’ offices to Canada’s GDP, many physician practices have not been eligible for critical economic programs. The CMA welcomes the remedies implemented by Bill C-20 and recommends the federal government address remaining administrative barriers to physicians accessing federal economic relief program.
2. We recommend that the government implement the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, an income tax deduction for frontline health care workers put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. In person patient care providers would be eligible to deduct a predetermined amount against income earned during the pandemic. The Canadian Armed Forces already employs this model for its members serving in hazardous missions.
3. It is a devastating reality that front line health care workers have died as a result of COVID-19. Extending eligibility for the Memorial Grant to families of front line health care workers who mourn the loss of a family member because of COVID-19, as a direct result of responding to the pandemic or as a result of an occupational illness or psychological impairment related to their work will relieve any unnecessary additional hardship experienced. The same grant should extend to cases in which their work contributes to the death of a family member.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Cementing financial stabilization measures for our front line health care workers
Those impacted by COVID-19 deserve our care. The health of our nation’s economy is contingent on the health standards for its people. We must assert the right to decent quality of life for those who are most vulnerable: those whose incomes have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, those living in poverty, those living in marginalized communities, and those doubly plagued by experiencing racism and the pandemic. We are not speaking solely for physicians. This is about equitable care for every Canadian impacted by the pandemic.
Public awareness and support have never been stronger. We are not facing the end of the pandemic; we are confronting an ebb in our journey. Hope and optimism will remain elusive until we can be confident in our health care system.
Since 1867, the Canadian Medical Association has been the national voice of Canada’s medical profession. We work with physicians, residents and medical students on issues that matter to the profession and the health of Canadians. We advocate for policy and programs that drive meaningful change for physicians and their patients
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates this opportunity to respond to the notice as
published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health
Canada’s proposed Vaping Products Promotion Regulations “that would (1) prohibit the promotion of vaping products and vaping product-related brand elements by means of advertising that is done in a manner that can be seen or heard by young persons, including the display of vaping products at points of sale where they can be seen by young persons; and (2) require that all vaping advertising convey a health warning about the health hazards of vaping product use.”
Canada’s physicians, who see the devastating effects of tobacco use every day in their practices, have
been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public
warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest
possible measures to control its use.
The CMA has always, and will continue to support, strong, comprehensive tobacco control legislation, enacted and enforced by all levels of government. This includes electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Our approach to tobacco and vaping products is grounded in public health policy. We believe it is incumbent on governments in Canada to continue working on comprehensive, coordinated and effective tobacco control strategies, including vaping products, to achieve the goal of reducing smoking prevalence.
It is imperative that the regulations concerning the promotion of vaping products be tightened sooner rather than later. While the CMA views Health Canada’s proposed regulations as a step in the right direction, they should only be considered as the start of extensive regulatory, policy and public health work required to effectively address the harms associated with vaping.
Vaping is not without risks. Evidence continues to grow about the hazards associated with the use of e-cigarettes, especially for youth and young adults. The emergence of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada, illustrates the danger these products can pose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of January 7, 2020 that there were 2,602 cases of hospitalized EVALI or deaths (57 so far) reported by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). In an update published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “younger age was significantly associated with acquiring THC-containing and nicotine-containing products through informal sources.” The report concludes with this warning: “Irrespective of the ongoing investigation, e-cigarette, or
vaping, products should never be used by youths, young adults, or pregnant women.”3 In Canada, as of January 7, 2020, 15 cases of severe pulmonary illness associated with vaping have been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) indicates that Canadians are growing more concerned about the safety of vaping as more information on the potential harms becomes available. The survey found that the number of people saying that vaping does more harm than good rose from 35% in 2018 to 62% in 2019.5 Further, 17% of parents with children under 19 said their child either vaped or had tried it; 92% of those parents considered vaping harmful.5 Significant to this discussion is the fact that 90% of respondents support “banning advertisements of vaping products in areas frequented by young people. This includes areas such as bus shelters or parks, and digital spaces like social media.”5 As public unease continues to rise, the need for further tightening of regulations becomes vital.
Unfortunately, the federal government is still behind the curve when it comes to the proliferation of vaping and the vaping industry. Health Canada will have to step up surveillance and enforcement if tightening of the regulations is to be effective.
This brief will address the planned regulations as well as discuss important issues not covered such as nicotine levels and flavours. We have expressed concerns about these topics in previous consultations and will be reiterating them here.
Promotion of Vaping Products
The CMA appreciates Health Canada’s intent to tighten the regulations but this proposal is not sufficient, and we must reiterate our long-held position that the restrictions on the promotion of all vaping products and devices be the same as those for tobacco products. , The proposed regulations provides the vaping industry with too much latitude in their promotion activities to ensure youth are protected. As we noted in our response to Health Canada’s consultation on The Impact of Vaping Products Advertising on Youth and Nonusers of Tobacco Products, the advertisements that have been permitted to this point seem to have managed to find their way to youth, even if they are not directed at them, as has been asserted.7, We recommended vaping advertisements should not be permitted in any public places, broadcast media, and in publications of any type, with no exceptions. The CMA stands by that recommendation.7
The methods used by the vaping industry in the past succeeded in attracting more and more youth and young adults and it will no doubt continue efforts to find novel approaches for promoting their products, including the use of popular social media channels. , , , Indeed, “JUUL’s™ advertising imagery in its first 6 months on the market was patently youth oriented. For the next 2 ½ years it was more muted, but the company’s advertising was widely distributed on social media channels frequented by youth, was amplified by hashtag extensions, and catalyzed by compensated influencers and affiliates.”10
The vaping industry’s efforts to circumvent marketing restrictions in other jurisdictions are evident in view of some recent developments. A US study outlines an e-cigarette marketing technique that involves the promotion of scholarships for students. The study found 21 entities (manufacturers, e-cigarette review websites, distributors) offering 40 scholarships, ranging in value from $300 to $5000 (US).13 Most of the scholarships required “an essay submission, with most listing prompts related to e-cigarettes or eliciting information about the benefits of vaping.”13 The authors suggest “that prohibitions on e-cigarette scholarships to youth are also needed, as many of these scholarships require youth under the age of 18 years (for whom use of e-cigarettes are illegal) to write positive essays about vaping.”13
The CMA reiterates, yet again, its position that all health warnings for vaping products and devices should be similar to those presently required for tobacco packages in Canada.6, The need for such cautions is important in that we still do not understand fully the effects vaping can have on the human body.
More research is needed into the potential harms of using electronic cigarettes to understand the long-term effects users may face. , , The proposed health warnings are not strong enough in light of the research and knowledge that has emerged to date about the harms caused by e-cigarettes. For example, a recent US study highlighted the potential link between e-cigarette use and depression. It found “a significant cross-sectional association between e-cigarette use and depression, which highlights the need for prospective studies analyzing the longitudinal risk of depression with e-cigarette use.”18 As the authors note, “the potential mental health consequences may have regulatory implications for novel tobacco products.”18
Further, with respect to respiratory issues, a US study found that “use of e-cigarettes appears to be an independent risk factor for respiratory disease in addition to all combustible tobacco smoking.” The authors also don’t recommend the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool because “for most smokers, using an e-cigarette is associated with lower odds of successfully quitting smoking.”19
Nicotine levels and flavours are not addressed in this consultation. However, the CMA considers these issues to be vital in the effort to protect youth and young adults from the harms associated with e-cigarettes and will therefore provide comment in effort to speed movement toward resolving these problems.
The CMA remains very concerned about the rising levels of nicotine available through the vaping process. They supply “high levels of nicotine with few of the deterrents that are inherent in other tobacco products. Traditional e-cigarette products use solutions with free-base nicotine formulations in which stronger nicotine concentrations can cause aversive user experiences.”
Hammond et al noted in their 2019 study that “JUUL® uses benzoic acid and nicotine salt technology to
deliver higher concentrations of nicotine than conventional e-cigarettes; indeed, the nicotine concentration in the standard version of JUUL® is more than 50 mg/mL, compared with typical levels of 3-24 mg/mL for other e-cigarettes.”9 The salts and flavours available to be used with these devices reduce the harshness and bitterness of the taste of the e-liquids with some of the competition delivering even higher levels of nicotine.
The CMA called on Health Canada to restrict the level of nicotine in vaping products to avoid youth (and adults) from developing a dependence.20 Health Canada set the maximum level at 66 mg/ml while a European Union (EU) directive of 2014 indicates the level should not exceed 20 mg/ml. , Nicotine, among other issues, “affects the developing brain by increasing the risk of addiction, mood disorders, lowered impulse control, and cognitive impairment. , Utilizing the EU level as an interim measure until more scientific research is available to determine an optimal level is acceptable.
On December 5, 2019, the Government of Nova Scotia became the first province or territory to announce it would institute a ban on sale of flavoured e-cigarettes and juices, as of April 1, 2020. The CMA recommends that flavours banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible; others share this sentiment.6,7, Flavours are strong factors in attracting youth, especially when coupled with assertions of lower harm. Their success in doing so is evidenced by the rise in the rates of vaping among youth.9, A recent US study found that “perceiving flavored e-cigarettes as easier to use than unflavored e-cigarettes may lead to e-cigarette use progression among youth never tobacco users. Determining the factors (including e-cigarette marketing and specific e-cigarette flavors) that lead to perceived ease of using flavored e-cigarettes would inform efforts to prevent and curb youth e-cigarette use.” The CMA recommends that flavours be banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible.
1. The CMA recommends that vaping advertisements should not be permitted in any public places, broadcast media, and in publications of any type, with no exceptions.
2. The CMA reiterates its position that all health warnings for vaping products and devices should be similar to those for tobacco packages.
3. The CMA believes that the European Union 2014 directive indicating the nicotine concentration not exceed 20 mg/ml should be adopted as an interim measure until more scientific research is available to determine an optimum level.
4. CMA recommends flavours be banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible.