The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act1, from October 14, 2014, on the restriction of the use of additives.
Canada's physicians 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.
Flavoured tobacco products include candy or fruit flavoured products including cigarillos, water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and blunt wraps. They come in flavours that are appealing to youth such as chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, or strawberry. Flavouring makes the tobacco products more palatable to youth and young adult smokers because they have a lower tolerance for irritation and an underdeveloped taste for tobacco smoke.2 Menthol is a long standing and common flavour used in cigarettes and is used to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke. It is the most popular flavour among youth. Almost three out of 10 Canadian youth who smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days (29 per cent) reported smoking menthol cigarettes.3
Tobacco Use and Youth
While tobacco use has declined in Canada we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce smoking rates. Today 16 per cent of Canadians continue to smoke on a regular basis and physicians are particularly concerned about the smoking prevalence among young adults and youth with 20 per cent of those aged 20-24, and 11 per cent of youth aged 15-19 currently smoking on a regular basis. 4
Flavoured tobacco products, with their appeal to young Canadians are a major threat to the health and well-being of our youth. A recent report, Flavoured Tobacco Use: Evidence from Canadian Youth based on the 2012/13 Youth Smoking Survey, shows that young people are using flavoured tobacco products at high levels. Results show that 50 per cent of high school students in Canada who used tobacco products in the previous 30 days used flavoured tobacco products.5
Previous Amendments Regarding Flavouring Agents
The CMA supported efforts of the federal government in 2009 to limit the addition of flavouring agents to tobacco products through the 2010 Act to Amend the Tobacco Act. But the Act did not cover all tobacco products and it excluded menthol as a flavouring agent. Manufacturers have been able to modify the weight and packaging of their products to technically comply with the Act while they continue to market flavoured products.
It is the CMA's position that the federal government has an important role in smoking cessation and prevention among youth. The CMA supports the proposed extension of the prohibitions on the use of certain flavouring additives in relation to the manufacture and sale of little cigars to cigars weighing more than 1.4 g but less than 6 g.
The CMA remains very concerned that these amendments do not ban menthol flavouring in tobacco products. To that end, the CMA recommends that Health Canada extend its prohibition on flavouring additives to include a ban on the addition of menthol in all tobacco products.
1 Health Canada. Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act. October 14, 2014. Accessed at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/consult/_2014/tobacco-act-loi-tabac/index-eng.php
2 Carpenter CM, Wayne GF, Pauly JL, Koh HK, Connolly GN. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: Tobacco marketing strategies: Tobacco industry documents reveal a deliberate strategy to add flavors known to appeal to younger people. Health Affairs 2005;24(6):1601-1610.
3 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
4 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey 2012 , accessed at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/research-recherche/stat/ctums-esutc_2012-eng.php.
5 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
Minaker L, Manske S, Rynard VL, Reid JL & Hammond D. Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, 2014 Edition - Special Supplement: Flavoured Tobacco Use. Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.
Canadian Medical Association 2
November 10, 2014
On behalf of its more than 82,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada's physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 51 national medical organizations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for its study on e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which replicate the act and taste of smoking, but do not contain tobacco, are growing rapidly in popularity. The tube of an e-cigarette contains heat-producing batteries and a chamber holding liquid, mainly propylene glycol. When heated, the liquid is turned into vapour which is drawn into the lungs. Ingredients vary by brand but many contain nicotine. Flavourings are also added with the intention of boosting their appeal to young people. Issues have been identified with labelling of e-cigarettes, where upon inspection, there have been contaminants, and nicotine has been detected in products labeled without nicotine.1 Users are generally able to modify the contents of e-cigarettes, with the addition of other substances, including marijuana.
Originally most e-cigarette manufacturers were small entrepreneurial companies; now, however, all major transnational tobacco companies are also producing e-cigarettes and competing for a share in the market.
There are little data on Canadian use. In the U.S., one in five adult smokers has tried them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2.
Current Regulatory Status
Health Canada issued a warning in 20093 about the potential dangers and the fact that e-cigarettes had not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy. The sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine is currently illegal in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act regulations4 though they can still be purchased in the US or over the Internet. However, those that do not make any health claim and do not contain nicotine may legally be sold in Canada under the same regulation. Health Canada is considering additional regulatory measures but none have yet been introduced. Some municipal jurisdictions are also considering regulation changes.
Internationally, regulation of e-cigarettes is just beginning, and approaches vary. A few countries - such as Brazil, Norway and Singapore - have banned them outright. France plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products, and the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a similar approach. On the other hand, Britain will regulate e-cigarettes as non-prescription drugs starting in 2016.5
Current evidence is insufficient to estimate the health effects of e-cigarettes. There are both defenders and opponents, though their arguments are based largely on opinion since e-cigarettes are only beginning to undergo rigorous clinical testing.6
Proponents, including some health officials and groups, say they are safer than tobacco cigarettes since they do not contain the tar and other toxic ingredients that are the cause of tobacco related disease.7 Some believe they serve a useful purpose as a harm reduction tool or cessation aid, although marketing them as such is not permitted since that claim has never been approved by Health Canada.
Opponents are concerned that the nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes is addictive and that the e-cigarettes may contain other toxic ingredients such as nitrosamines, a carcinogen. Also, they worry that acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine efforts to de-normalize smoking, and that they may be a gateway to use of tobacco by people who might otherwise have remained smoke-free.8 The use of flavouring agents and attractive packaging could entice children and youth, and survey data in some countries has shown that teens are increasingly experimenting with e-cigarettes.
There has also been a dramatic increase in cases of nicotine overdose by ingestion or through dermal contact, particularly in children.9 The number of these incidents seems to be rising in countries that monitor poisonings.
The World Health Organization recently released a report on the health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) use which incorporates the 2013 deliberations and scientific recommendations by the WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation. It concludes that "ENDS use poses serious threats to adolescents and fetuses. In addition, it increases exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants." The report says that it is possibly less toxic for the smoker than conventional cigarettes but it is unknown by how much.10 This report suggests that governments should have the following regulatory objectives:
* impede the promotion and uptake of e-cigarettes with nicotine by non-smokers, pregnant women and youth;
* minimize potential health risks to e-cigarette users and non-users;
* prohibit unproven health claims from being made about e-cigarettes; and
* protect existing tobacco-control efforts from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.11
Given the absence of solid evidence of harms or benefits, CMA recommends that:
1. E-cigarettes containing nicotine should not be authorized for sale in Canada.
2. The sale of all e-cigarettes should be prohibited to Canadians younger than the minimum age for tobacco consumption in their province or territory.
3. Smoke-free policies should be expanded to include a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is prohibited.
4. Research on the potential harms and benefits of electronic cigarette use should be supported.
1 Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ). (Mai 2013). La cigarette électronique: état de situation. Available : http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/1691_CigarElectro_EtatSituation.pdf
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five U.S. adult cigarette smokers have tried an electronic cigarette. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Press Release. February 28, 2013 Available: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0228_electronic_cigarettes.html (accessed October 31, 2014)
3 Health Canada. Health Canada Advises Canadians Not to Use Electronic Cigarettes (archived). Available: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2009/13373a-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
4 Health Canada. Notice - To All Persons Interested in Importing, Advertising or Selling Electronic Smoking Products in Canada. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/applic-demande/pol/notice_avis_e-cig-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
5 Kelland, K. & Hirschler, B. Insight - No smoke, plenty of fire fuels e-cigarettes. Reuters. June 13, 2013. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/13/uk-ecigarettes-insight-idUKBRE95C0F720130613 (accessed October 31, 2014)
6 Non-Smokers Rights Association. Product Regulation: The Buzz on E-Cigarettes. Available: http://www.nsra-adnf.ca/cms/page1385.cfm (accessed October 31, 2014)
7 Weeks, C. Could e-cigarettes save smokers' lives? Some health advocates think so. The Globe and Mail April 29, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/could-e-cigarettes-save-smokers-lives-some-health-advocates-think-so/article11583353/?cmpid=rss1
8 Toronto Public Health. E-cigarettes in Toronto. Staff report to the Toronto Board of Health. August 1, 2014. Available: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-72510.pdf (accessed October 31, 2014).
9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Notes from the Field: Calls to Poison Centers for Exposures to Electronic Cigarettes - United States, September 2010-February 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(13): 292-293. April 4, 2014. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6313a4.htm?s_cid=mm6313a4_w (accessed October 31, 2014).
10 World Health Organization. Electronic nicotine delivery systems. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Sixth session Moscow, Russian Federation, 13-18 October 2014. Provisional agenda item 4.4.2. Available: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6_10-en.pdf?ua=1
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce study of Bill C-31 the Budget Implementation Bill, in particular the section concerned with tobacco taxation.
Tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, claiming 37,000 or more Canadians' lives every year. It is a major risk factor for the chronic diseases that burden Canadians and their health care system, and it costs the country over $17 billion per year for medical treatment, social assistance, lost productivity and reduced quality of life. While progress has been made in lowering smoking rates and changing attitudes towards smoking much work remains - nearly 4.6 million Canadians still smoke.
Physicians have been warning of the dangers of smoking for over 50 years. Canada's doctors treat the harmful effects of tobacco use every day in their offices, and see first-hand the devastation it causes to patients and their families. The CMA has consistently recommended tough legislative and regulatory measures to control tobacco use. Comprehensive tobacco control efforts must include legislation, regulation, together with public education and smoking cessation programs.
Impact of Price on Smoking
Research has shown that an increase in cigarette prices has an impact on reducing both the number of cigarettes smoked and smoking prevalence rates. Permanent, inflation-adjusted increases in cigarette prices, which could be achieved by increasing cigarette taxes, will contribute to reducing cigarette smoking rates in Canada. Youth are up to three times more sensitive to price than adults, with a 10 per cent price increase estimated to reduce youth smoking prevalence by 5 per cent or more and also to reduce cigarette consumption among continuing young smokersi
With the current smoking rate of 20 per cent among Canadian young adults, higher than the smoking rate for the rest of Canada which is 16 per cent, additional initiatives to reduce smoking in this population are urgently required.
Research has also shown that persons of low socioeconomic status are more responsive to price than the general population but it is less clear on the impact on long-term heavy smokers and aboriginal smokersii
Estimates imply that the long-run effect of a permanent price increase is approximately double the short-run impact. Thus, a 10 per cent increase in cigarette price is expected to reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking by approximately 8 per cent in the long run.iii
Excise Tax Adjustments
The current proposal to adjust the domestic rate of excise duty on tobacco products to account for inflation and eliminate the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products available through duty free markets will increase the cost of cigarettes and other tobacco products like fine-cut tobacco for use in roll-your-own cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. For example, the government has stated that the excise "duty free" rate for cigarettes will increase from $15.00 to $21.03 per carton of 200 cigarettes. The commitment to make an automatic inflation adjustment every 5 years is a means to ensure that tobacco tax rates retain their real value in the future.
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products. This proposal represents a positive step toward the development of a federal integrated tobacco tax strategy for both domestic and imported products, and speaks to the importance of the relationship between health policy and tax policy.
There is a risk that a rise in tobacco taxes with the resultant rise in the cost of smoking will lead to an increase in the smuggling of lower-cost cigarettes. To avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders. In addition, all levels of government should take the most stringent measures possible to control the sale and distribution of contraband tobacco, on their own and in cooperation with other affected jurisdictions.
Investing Tobacco Taxes in Health Promotion
The Minister of Finance has estimated that increasing tobacco taxes, including excise taxes on tobacco products, will increase federal tax revenues by $96 million in 2013-14, 685 million in 2014-15 and $660 million in 2015-16.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use. The federal government should place a high priority for funding tobacco prevention and evidence-based cessation programs for young Canadians as early as primary school age. For these, substantial and sustainable funding is required.
A portion of these tobacco taxes should also be used to defray the costs of tobacco interventions, including physician-based clinical tobacco intervention services and up to 12 weeks stop-smoking medication annually per smoker. We encourage the government to focus their efforts on "high-risk" and "hard-to-reach" populations.
For Canada's Tobacco Control strategy to continue to reduce smoking rates in Canada we must continue to assess evolving best practices in smoking cessation programs, and conduct research on the impact of policies on high risk populations.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use. This evidence comes from surveying Canadians on smoking behavior, conducting research and evaluation, and keeping track of trends and emerging issues.
The CMA supports increasing the excise duty on tobacco products. An increase in the excise duty tax on tobacco products is long overdue and a welcome contribution to efforts already underway to further reduce smoking rates in Canada.
Summary of Recommendations
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders to avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use.
i The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
ii Effects of Tobacco Taxation and Pricing on Smoking Behavior in High Risk Populations: A Knowledge Synthesis
Pearl Bader, David Boisclair, Roberta Ferrence
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 November; 8(11): 4118-4139. Published online 2011 October 26. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8114118
iii The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this committee as part of your review of the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care. An understanding of what has worked and what hasn't since 2004 is critical to ensuring the next accord brings about necessary change to the system.
Overview of 2004 Accord
On the positive side of the ledger, the 2004 accord provided the health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade - something that had been sorely lacking. It also showed that a focused commitment, in this case on wait times, can lead to improvements.
However, little has been done on several other important commitments in the Accord, such as the pledge that was also made in 2003 to address the significant inequity among Canadians in accessing prescription drugs.
Along with the lack of long-term, community and home-based care services, this accounts for a major gap in patient access along the continuum of care.
We also know that accountability provisions in past accords have been lacking in several ways. For instance, there has been little progress in developing common performance indicators set out in previous accord. i The 2004 accord has no clear terms of reference on accountability for overseeing its provisions.
Vision and principles for 2014
What the 2004 accord lacked was a clear vision. Without a destination, and a commitment to getting there, our health care system cannot be transformed and will never become a truly integrated, high performing health system.
The 2014 Accord is the perfect opportunity to begin this journey, if it is set up in a way that fosters the innovation and improvements that are necessary. By clearly defining the objectives and securing stable, incremental funding, we will know what changes we need to get us there.
Now is the time to articulate the vision- to say loudly and clearly that at the end of the 10-year funding arrangement, by 2025, Canadians will have the best health and health care in the world. With a clear commitment from providers, administrators and governments, this vision can become our destination.
As a first step to begin this long and difficult journey, the CMA has partnered with the Canadian Nurses Association, and together we have solicited support from over 60 health care organizations for a series of "Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada."
These principles define a system that would provide equitable access to health care based on clinical need; care that is high quality and patient-centred; and that focuses on empowering patients to attain and maintain wellness.
They call for a system that provides accountability to those who use it and those who fund it; and that is sustainable - by which I mean adequately resourced in terms of financing, infrastructure and human resources, and measured against other high-performing systems, with cost linked to outcomes.
Based on our experience working within the provisions of the 2004 accord, we would like to suggest three strategies to ensure the next accord leads to a sustainable, high-performing health care system.
They are: a focus on quality; support for system innovation; and the establishment of an accountability framework and I will touch briefly on each one.
Focus on quality
First, the crucial need to focus on improving the quality of health care services. The key dimensions of quality, and by extension, the areas that need attention are: safety, effectiveness, patient-centredness, efficiency, timeliness, equitability and appropriateness.
Excellence in quality improvement in these areas will be a crucial step towards sustainability.
To date, six provinces have instituted health quality councils. Their mandates and their effectiveness in actually achieving lasting system-wide improvements vary. What is missing and urgently needed is an integrated, pan-Canadian approach to quality improvement in health care that can begin to chart a course to ensure Canadians ultimately have the best health and health care in the world.
Canadians deserve no less and, with the resources at our disposal, there is no reason why this should not be achievable.
The CMA recommends that the federal government fund the establishment and resource the operations of an arms-length Canadian Health Quality Council, with the mandate to be a catalyst for change, a spark for innovation and a facilitator to disseminate evidence-based quality improvement initiatives so that they become embedded in the fabric of our health systems from coast to coast to coast.
To help expand quality improvement across the country, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim provides the solid framework. Our health care systems will benefit inordinately from a simultaneous focus on providing better care to individuals and better health to populations, while reducing the per-capita cost. There is ample evidence that quality care is cost effective care. This approach, when adopted and applied as the pan-Canadian framework for any and all structural changes and quality improvement initiatives, will not only serve patients well, but will also enhance the experience of health care providers on the front lines.
The second strategy revolves around system innovation. Innovation and quality improvement initiatives are infinitely more likely to be successful and sustained if they arise out of a commitment by frontline providers and administrators to the achievement of a common goal. We need to shift away from compliance models with negative consequences that have little evidence to support their sustainability.
Innovative improvements in health care in Canada are inadequately supported, poorly recognized, and constrained from being shared and put into use more widely. This needs to change. The 2014 accord, with a focus on improving Canadians' health and health care, can facilitate the transformation we all seek.
Building on the success of the 2004 Wait Times Reduction Fund and the 2000 Health Accord Primary Health Care Transition Fund, the CMA proposes the creation of a Canada Health Innovation Fund that would broadly support the uptake of health system innovation initiatives across the country.
A Working Accountability Framework
And, third, there needs to be a working accountability framework. This would work three ways.
To provide accountability to patients - the system will be patient-centred and, along with its providers, will be accountable for the quality of care and the care experience.
To provide accountability to citizens - the system will provide and, along with its administrators and managers, will be accountable for delivering high quality, integrated services across the full continuum of care.
And to provide accountability to taxpayers - the system will optimize its per-capita costs, and along with those providing public funding and financing, will be accountable for the value derived from the money being spent.
We have done all of this because of our profound belief that meaningful change to our health care system is of the essence, and that such change can and must come about through the next health accord.
Therefore I thank this committee for your efforts on this important area. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Issues identified in 2004 Accord and Current Status
[NOTE: see PDF for correct dispaly of table]
Annual 6% escalator in the CHT to March 31, 2014
Has provided health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade.
Adoption of wait-time benchmarks by December 2005 for five procedural areas
Largely fulfilled. However, no benchmarks were set for diagnostic imaging. The Wait Time Alliance is calling for benchmarks for all specialty care.
Release of health human resource (HHR) action plans by December 2005
Partially fulfilled. Most jurisdictions issued rudimentary HHR plans by the end of 2005; F/P/T Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources issued a paper on a pan-Canadian planning HHR framework in September 2005.
First-dollar coverage for home care by 2006
Most provinces offer first-dollar coverage for post-acute home care but service varies across the country for mental health and palliative home care needs.
An objective of 50% of Canadians having 24/7 access to multidisciplinary primary care teams by 2011
Unfulfilled: Health Council of Canada reported in 2009 that only 32 per cent of Canadians had access to more than one primary health care provider.
A 5-year $150 million Territorial Health Access Fund
Fulfilled: Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative (THSSI) funding extended until March 31, 2014.
A 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS)
Largely unfulfilled: A progress report on the NPS was released in 2006 but nothing has been implemented.
Accelerated work on a pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy including goals and targets
F/P/T health ministers (except Quebec) put forward five high-level health goals for Canada in 2005, although they were not accompanied by operational definitions that would lend themselves to setting targets.
Continued federal investments in health innovation
Unknown-no specificity in the 2004 Accord.
Reporting to residents on health system performance and elements of the Accord
P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).
Formalization of the dispute advance/resolution mechanism on the CHA
Done but not yet tested.
i P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).Government of Canada. Healthy Canadians: a federal report on comparable health indicators 2008. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/system-regime/2008-fed-comp-indicat/index-eng.pdf. Accessed 06/21/11.
Thank you very much for inviting the Canadian Medical Association back to this committee as you continue your study on healthy living.
A few weeks ago my colleague Dr. Doig was here to talk about the health consequences of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity and the policies CMA has advocated to promote healthy living.
Today I would like to expand upon nutrition labelling and health claims on foods, and on the labelling of foods regulated as natural health products.
Nutrition facts tables can be an important source of information, but many Canadians have difficulty interpreting them. A 2009 Health Canada review of research on nutrition labelling indicated that:
* those with little nutrition knowledge have difficulty using the tables and are unable to relate the information they contain to their own dietary needs; and that
* the concept of percentage of daily value is often misunderstood.
There has been an increase in the use of health claims on the front of packaging expressed as slogans or logos such as "healthy choice," as well as in disease reduction and nutrient content claims.
Studies have shown that foods carrying health-related claims are seen by consumers as healthier choices. But the myriad of different claims can be confusing and may, in fact, draw attention away from the less healthy characteristics of a food, or oversimplify complex nutritional messages.
We believe a standard consistent "at a glance" approach to front-of-package food labelling could reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices.
The "traffic light" front-of-pack labelling currently in voluntary use in the UK is an example. The front-of-pack labels on composite processed foods use green, amber and red to indicate low, medium or high levels of the nutrients most strongly associated with diet-related health risks: fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Also included is calorie count per serving and percentage daily amount information.
Research in the UK has shown that consumers generally understand these labels. Shoppers are most likely to use them when buying a product for the first time; to compare different products; when shopping for children; when trying to control intake of certain ingredients such as fat or salt, for health reasons; or when trying to lose weight.
Not surprisingly, research in the UK and Canada also shows that those most likely to read nutrition labels are those who are already interested in healthy eating.
For this reason, labelling policy must be embedded in a broader nutrition policy that uses multiple instruments to foster education and interest in healthy eating, and helps ensure that Canadians have healthy food choices by, for example, regulating amounts of salt in processed food.
In addition, physicians have become quite concerned about a recent tendency toward regulating 'fortified foods 'as Natural Health Products.
The Food and Drugs Act effectively prevents products classified as foods from being marketed as having medicinal benefits unless there is compelling scientific evidence that the claims are true and the products are safe. The same strong legislation does not apply to Natural Health Products (NHPs), which are regulated under a different act.
This is a concern because a trend is emerging whereby manufacturers of products normally sold as foods fortify their products with approved natural health products such as vitamins or minerals. Examples of these are energy drinks and vitamin-enhanced juice, power bars, gums and candy.
The manufacturer can then request federal approval to market the product as a 'health product in food format.' If approved, food labelling requirements no longer apply and health claims that would not be allowed under the Food and Drugs Act can be made.
Without proper nutrition labelling, it is difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to make informed food choices. This can be particularly troubling for those with special diets or health concerns. Further, those misled by dubious health claims might be consuming empty calories or high amounts of fat or sodium, with no corresponding benefit. The result is that the health of Canadians may be compromised.
The CMA has called on Health Canada to require compelling evidence of health benefits before changing a product's regulatory status from food to natural health product, and nutrition labelling for all foods regulated as a natural health product.
Faced with an array of products and health claims, and a barrage of advertising extolling their benefits, Canadians can find it challenging to make healthier food choices.
To find our way through to the right choice, we need good nutritional information, and the ability to access and understand this information.
Governments and health care providers share a responsibility to help Canadians make choices that will help them achieve and maintain good health. Canada's doctors are partners in healthy living and are ready to work with governments and others toward a healthy population.
I welcome your questions.