Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG)
Cannabis use has health risks best avoided by abstaining
Delay taking up cannabis use until later in life
Identify and choose lower-risk cannabis products
Don’t use synthetic cannabinoids
Avoid smoking burnt cannabis—choose safer ways of using
If you smoke cannabis, avoid harmful smoking practices
Limit and reduce how often you use cannabis
Don’t use and drive, or operate other machinery
Avoid cannabis use altogether if you are at risk for mental health problems or are pregnant
Avoid combining these risks
Fischer, B., Russell, C., Sabioni, P., van den Brink, W., Le Foll, B., Hall,
W., Rehm, J. & Room, R. (2017). Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG): An evidence-based update. American Journal of Public Health, 107(8). DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818.
The LRCUG have been endorsed by the following organizations:
Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health
The Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG) are an evidence-based intervention project by the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM), funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
A longer evidence summary of the guidelines, aimed at health professionals, is available at camh.ca.
Cannabis use is a personal choice,
but it comes with risks to your
health and well-being. Follow
these recommendations to reduce your risks.
Cannabis use is a personal choice,
but it comes with risks to your
health and well-being. Follow
these recommendations to reduce your risks.
Health risks of cannabis use
There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health risks. The risks depend on your constitution, which kinds of cannabis products you use and how or how often you use them. Some of the main health risks are:
problems with thinking, memory or physical co-ordination
impaired perceptions or hallucinations
fatal and non-fatal injuries, including those from motor-vehicle accidents, due to impairment
To Whom It May Concern:
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide its comments with respect to Health Canada’s Patented Medicines Regulations Consultations. The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and over 60 national medical organizations.
As the second-largest share of total health expenditures in Canada, forecast to be 16% in 2016, the cost of drugs is of significant concern to physicians.1 In 2014, 42.6% of prescribed drug spending ($12.5 billion) came from the public sector.2 Pharmaceuticals play an important role in overcoming disease and maintaining health but access to these drugs can be problematic outside of hospital care due to their cost. This is why the CMA has called for a pan-Canadian system of catastrophic coverage for prescription drugs.3 We viewed this as a step toward the development of comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medicines in Canada.4
1 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends 1975-2016, December 15, 2016
3 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). A New Vision for Health Care in Canada: Addressing the Needs of an Aging Population. 2016 Pre-budget Submission to the Minister of Finance. Ottawa: The Association; 2016 Feb 12
In its brief to the Commission of Inquiry on the Pharmaceutical Industry in August, 1984, the CMA stated that we “fully support the objective of providing prescription drugs to patients at the lowest possible cost that is consistent with wise health care delivery.”5 This remains our objective. This submission will address the proposed improvements to the regulations raised in the consultation document from a broad perspective.
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Brief to the Commission of Inquiry on the Pharmaceutical Industry August 15, 1984
6 Gray C. Patented drugs: Is the price right? CMAJ 1998 158:1645
7 Silversides A. Monitoring the price of new drugs CMAJ 2006 174(11):1548-1549
8 The Commission of Inquiry on the Pharmaceutical Industry. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Pharmaceutical Industry H.C. Eastman, Commissioner. Ottawa Minister of Supply and Services 1985 p. 347
9 Industry Canada. Pharmaceutical industry profile. https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/lsg-pdsv.nsf/eng/h_hn01703.html (Accessed 2017 June 20)
10 Morgan SG, Leopold C, Wagner AK. Drivers of expenditures on primary care prescription drugs in 10 high-income countries with universal health coverage. CMAJ 2017;189:E794-9
The ability of the PMPRB to monitor drug prices has long been the subject of review and concern.6,7 The CMA is pleased that the Government of Canada is undertaking this review to provide the Patented Medicines Prices review Board (PMPRB) with a new regulatory framework to protect Canadians from excessive prices and improving the regulatory process. The board needs to use every economic measure and tool at its disposal to ensure Canadians pay fair and equitable prescription drug prices.
As the Eastman Commission pointed out in its 1985 report, “Canadian consumption is a small proportion of world consumption so that Canadian patent policy has little effect on the world-wide profitability of the pharmaceutical industry.”8 Indeed, Canadian pharmaceutical sales represent 2% of the global market which makes us the tenth largest world market.9 Yet our small size with respect to the global market has not shielded us from high prices. For example, a recent study found that although the volume of therapies purchased in Canada across six classes of “primary care medicines” was similar, we paid an estimated $2.3 billion more for them in 2015 than if these treatments had the “same average cost per day in Canada as in the nine comparator countries combined.”10
Prescription medication spending is an issue for many Canadians, especially when it has an impact on compliance with prescription regimes, an unintended consequence of the manner in which the board’s regulatory framework has been applied. On the
Commonwealth Fund’s 2013 International Health Policy Survey, 8% of the Canadian respondents said that they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.11 Himmelstein et al. reported on a survey of Canadians who experienced bankruptcy between 2008 and 2010. They found that 74.5% of the respondents who had had a medical bill within the last two years reported that prescription drugs was their biggest medical expense.12
11 Schoen C, Osborn R, Squires D, Doty M. Access, affordability, and insurance complexity are often worse in the United States compared to ten other countries. Health Affairs 2013;32(12):2205-15.
12 Himmelstein D, Woolhandler S, Sarra J, Guyatt G. Health issues and health care expenses in Canadian bankruptices and insolvencies. International Journal of Health Services 2014;44(1):7-23.
13 Vebeeten D, Astiles P, Prada, G. Understanding Health and Social Services for seniors in Canada. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2015.
16 Morgan SG, Lee A. Cost-related non-adherence to prescribed medicines among older adults: a cross-sectional analysis of a survey in 11 developed countries BMJ Open 2017;7: e014287. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014287 (access 2017 Jun 16)
17 Zhang R., Martin D., Naylor CD., Regulator or regulatory shield? The case for reforming Canada’s Patented Medicines Prices review Board. CMAJ 2017 April 10;189:E515-6. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.161355
The CMA is especially worried about the impact high drug costs have on seniors in the absence of universal drug coverage. They have access to some level of drug coverage in all provinces and territories but it is not even.13 Eight provinces have an income-test that determines the deductibles they will pay while in two they pay a small portion of the cost with the province or a third-party insurer covering the rest.14 All three territories have plans for those who qualify but the provisions may be limited.15 A recent study found that older Canadian adults (55 and older) had the second-highest prevalence (8.3%) of cost-related non-adherence (CRNA) for prescribed medications.16 CRNA was higher among those with lower incomes and lower among those over 65.
Finally, the CMA remains very concerned about ongoing shortages of prescription drugs. We would caution that whatever measures the government undertakes to strengthen and improve the PMPRB do not exacerbate drug shortages.
The PMPRB’s current benchmark “that Canadian prices for patented drugs should be less than the median of prices in selected comparison countries” places us at a distinct disadvantage.17 As the authors note, “it puts Canada well above the OECD average by
aligning Canada with countries that spend more from the outset.”18 The PMBRB should expand its range of comparator countries beyond those identified originally (France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) to include those OECD countries with middle to low patent drug pricing.19
Furthermore, to ensure that the process is clear and transparent for Canadians, the PMPRB should “set prices closer to what comparator countries actually pay for their drugs as opposed to the “sticker” prices that most commonly represent the starting point for confidential negotiations.”20 Canadians deserve that much after years of paying such high prices for their patented medicines.
The CMA is very concerned about the cost of medications. In the absence of universal drug coverage and, at a minimum, a pan-Canadian system of catastrophic coverage of prescription drug costs, a strengthened and robust regulatory framework for the pricing of patented medicines in Canada is crucial. The CMA calls on the federal government to revise the PMPRB regulations such that it provides Canadians with transparency and clarity around the setting of patented medicines prices while achieving the lowest costs possible and ensuring we continue to have access to a wide array of pharmaceutical products.
Granger R. Avery, MB BS, FRRMS
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide its response to Health Canada's public consultation on the Guide to New Authorities (power to require & disclose information, power to order a label change and power to order a recall), in reference to the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa's Law), which came into force on November 6, 2014.
The CMA supports a robust legislative framework toward an unbiased, evidence-based system for the oversight of pharmaceutical products, which spans both the pre- and post-approval of these products, with the ultimate goal of patient safety. Prescription medication plays a critical role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. It is a priority to physicians that all Canadians have access to affordable, safe and effective prescription medications.
Stemming from this perspective, the CMA strongly welcomed the new ministerial authorities established by Vanessa's Law as an important contribution to patient safety and the effectiveness of Health Canada's oversight of prescription pharmaceuticals. With these new authorities now in effect, it is critical that implementation is comprehensive, effective and transparent. As such, CMA's response to this public consultation on the new Guide will focus on the need for:
* increased clarity on the thresholds that underpin the use of these new authorities,
* guidance on the notification of public, physicians and other health care practitioners, and
* a commitment to ongoing oversight and revision process of this guidance.
ISSUE 1: PROVIDE INCREASED CLARITY ON THE THRESHOLDS
In CMA's brief1 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health as part of its study of Bill C-17, Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, key recommendations included clarification of both ministerial authority and responsibility in support of patient safety. The CMA supported the intent of the expansion of these powers, but expressed concern with the lack of clarity on the threshold required to be met to enable the use of these new authorities.
In order to ensure the consistent and effective implementation of these new ministerial authorities, the CMA considers it essential that the Guide provide more clarity on the threshold that enables the use of the new authorities, including the determination of serious risk.
To determine this threshold, Health Canada relies on experts to analyze scientific information and make a recommendation to the Minister.
The CMA recommends that guidance be expanded to specify a mechanism for experts, external to Health Canada, to submit recommendations for action and the process by which these recommendations would be considered.
As the definition of "serious risk of injury to human health" is not provided in Vanessa's Law, it is critical that it be addressed in the Guide. Annex A of the Guide states that "the determination of whether a therapeutic product presents a serious risk is complex and is conducted on a case-by-case basis when new information becomes available", and puts forward a "non-exhaustive" list of elements to be considered. It also states that different weights would be attributed to different elements and suggests further contextual elements. The CMA is concerned that without a clear process for the determination of what constitutes a serious risk that subjectivity may have an undue role in this determination and there is the potential for a lack of consistency from case to case. Further, a detailed process is required to ensure that this threshold does not constrain ministerial authority when action is needed.
The CMA recommends that the elements and process for the determination of "serious risk" be further defined, in order to bring clarity to the determination of a threshold for serious risk, and support reasoned decisions which stand up to legal challenges.
ISSUE 2: INCLUDE GUIDANCE NOTIFICATION TO PUBLIC, PHYSICIANS AND OTHER HEALTH CARE PRACTITIONERS
The CMA is supportive of the guiding principles that should govern all decisions made by Health Canada acting as a regulatory decision-maker, i.e., that power is exercised in a process that is free from bias, based on evidence and in a transparent manner.
In order to support transparency, the CMA recommends that the guidance be expanded to include the notification of the public, both by companies2 and by Health Canada, when these new authorities are exercised.
Access to accurate, unbiased information is essential for people to make decisions about their own health.. A clear elaboration and articulation of the process and timelines for how and when public notification is issued in relation to the exercise of the new ministerial authorities is critical to ensure their comprehensive, effective and transparent implementation.
Also, when new information is discovered about a prescription medication, it is important that health professionals be informed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As part of Health Canada's commitment to transparency, the CMA recommends that the guidance should be expanded to include public disclosure of Health Canada's usage of the guidance: how the thresholds are applied on a case by case basis and the outcomes of decisions, even when the process results in no action being taken.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), for example, provides guidance and instructions on their public notification expectations in a situation where a product may pose a significant health hazard.3 In addition, there are different mechanisms of public notification, including 'mobile web' and alerts.
Finally, also consistent with the guidance of the U.S. FDA, the CMA recommends that the guidance be expanded to require evaluation by companies and Health Canada of the use of the power for collection of information, label change or recall and public reporting on the effectiveness of the action taken.
ISSUE 3: SPECIFY THE OVERSIGHT AND REVISION OF THE GUIDANCE
As part of its public consultation outreach with stakeholders on this new guidance, Health Canada officials have described the Guide as an evergreen document that will be continually updated. The CMA is supportive of Health Canada's efforts to engage stakeholders and the public in the development and revision of this guidance.
To ensure clarity on how or when the revision process will be undertaken, the CMA recommends that the guidance include a timeline for revision, a mechanism for stakeholders to identify issues with the guidance, and the circumstances that would trigger an early review, possibly leading to a revision.
The CMA welcomed this opportunity to submit recommendations on how Health Canada may improve the Guide to New Authorities, which is critical to the comprehensive, effective and transparent implementation of the new authorities established by Vanessa's Law. The CMA looks forward to continued and ongoing collaboration with Health Canada on its implementation of these important new powers.
Overview of Recommendations
1. The CMA recommends that the guidance be expanded to specify a mechanism for experts, external to Health Canada, to submit recommendations for action and the process by which these recommendations would be considered.
2. The CMA recommends that the elements and process for the determination of "serious risk" be further defined, in order to bring clarity to the determination of a threshold for serious risk, and support reasoned decisions which stand up to legal challenges.
3. In order to support transparency, the CMA recommends that the guidance be expanded to include the notification of the public, both by companies and by Health Canada when these new authorities are exercised.
4. The CMA recommends that the guidance should be expanded to include public disclosure of Health Canada's usage of the guidance: how the thresholds are applied on a case by case basis and the outcomes of decisions, even when the process results in no action being taken.
5. The CMA recommends that the guidance be expanded to require evaluation by companies and Health Canada of the use of the power for collection of information, label change or recall and public reporting on the effectiveness of the action taken.
6. To ensure clarity on how or when the revision process will be undertaken, the CMA recommends that the guidance include a timeline for revision, a mechanism for stakeholders to identify issues with the guidance, and the circumstances that would trigger an early review, possibly leading to a revision.
1 Canadian Medical Association (2014) Bill C-17 An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act - Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs. Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2014-09.pdf
2 Note: Throughout this submission, "companies" refers to whom the new ministerial powers apply outside of the regulator - as explained in the consultation document, in the case of s. 21.1 it is a "person" (can include an individual, a research institution, a corporation or an authorization holder), in the case of 21.2 it is the therapeutic product authorization holder, and in the case of s.21.3 it is a "person".
3 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2015) Guidance for Industry: Product Recalls, Including Removals and Corrections. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/IndustryGuidance/ucm129259.htm
Dear Mr. Rodrigue:
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the consultation on the proposed front-of-packaging labelling (FOP) as posted in the Canada Gazette Part One on February 9, 2018.1 This new requirement will “provide clear and consistent front-of-package information and updated nutrient content claims to help protect Canadians from the risks of chronic diseases” related to the intake of foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fat.2
1 Canada Gazette Part One. Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Food and Drugs Act (Nutrition Symbols, Other Labelling Provisions, Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Vitamin D) Department of Health Vol. 152, No. 6 — February 10, 2018
2 Ibid pg.1
3 Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Nutrition Labelling, Canadian Medical Association, March 3, 2011 accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca
The CMA believes that governments have a responsibility to provide guidance on healthy eating that can be easily incorporated into daily lives, and that the federal government has a continuous obligation to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support healthy food and beverage choices; provide user-friendly consumer information including complete nutritional content and accurate advertising claims; and increase the amount of information provided on product labels. We also commend Health Canada for its current work on revising the Canada Food Guide.
The CMA has supported a standard “at a glance” approach to FOP food labelling that can reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices since 2011.3 FOP labelling on packaged foods will help Canadians make healthier food and beverage choices. It will draw attention to those ingredients to be avoided in higher levels and can reinforce public health messaging on healthy eating. An added benefit may be an incentive to the food industry to reformulate processed foods with lower amounts of those nutrients highlighted in FOP labelling.
The CMA supports the placement of the proposed symbol on the upper and/or right hand side of the packaging, covering 25% of the principal display surface. The symbol
must be clearly delineated from the product packaging so that it stands out and can be located with relative ease. It is important for the symbol to convey to the consumer that there is a certain degree of risk involved in consuming these foods, hence the colours used and the shape will be important.
Of the four symbols proposed by Health Canada, our preference is for the one displayed here but with a more defined, thicker border, that includes a small outer buffer (in white). It will be essential for Health Canada to ensure that the symbol design has been tested thoroughly with consumers and is effective in conveying the intended “high in” message.
As such, manufacturers will need clear guidance about the constraints on the use and placement of these symbols to ensure they cannot be misconstrued and to prevent the use of configurations that will diminish their effectiveness. Manufacturers must not be permitted to place voluntary nutrient content or health claims below or near the main symbol that would distort the message and create confusion.
Foods to be exempted from front-of-package nutrition labelling
There will be foods that are exempt from the labelling requirements and consumers will need clear explanations with respect to those that are exempt and why; some will be obvious, some will not. The CMA supports the proposed exemptions for eggs, fruits, vegetables and unsweetened, unsalted plain milk, and whole milk. However, we do not believe flavoured and/or seasoning salts and “sea salts” should be exempted from the requirement to have an FOP symbol on the package. Health Canada will need to undertake an education program to explain to consumers that these products are actually high in sodium.
Nutrient thresholds for sodium, sugar & saturated fat
CMA policy has encouraged governments to continue to work to reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans-fat and calorie content of processed foods and prepared meals.4 The nutrient levels chosen will therefore be critical in that regard. The CMA supports the proposed levels to identify foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fats. The CMA believes that it is important that there is consistency across all nutritional and healthy eating information and advice for Canadians. Ensuring consistency between the “high in” threshold and the 15% “a lot” daily value (DV) message delivers a clear message of concern.
4 Healthy Behaviours: Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating, Canadian Medical Association Policy, 2014, accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca.
While we understand the rationale behind increasing the nutrient threshold for prepackaged meals to 30% of the DV, we recommend that the threshold for “high in”
sugar of 30 grams or more total sugars per serving of stated size may be too high and should be reconsidered. It should also be noted that the different thresholds on prepackaged foods and prepackaged meals may cause confusion for consumers and should be introduced with some consumer education.
Nutrient content claims, in relation to Front-of-Packaging Labelling symbol
Allowing a food that qualifies for a “high in” sugar FOP symbol to also display a “no added sugars” claim would be very confusing to consumers. The product label information would appear as quite contradictory; therefore the CMA does support not allowing “no added sugar” claims on these foods. The CMA would suggest that a food that is high in two or more of sugar, sodium or saturated fats not be allowed to display any content claims to avoid any consumer confusion.
High-intensity sweetener labelling
Canadians have come to rely on easy-to-recognize information that alerts them that food may contain artificial sweeteners. Therefore, we do not support the elimination of the labelling requirement for artificial sweeteners on the principal display panel. For products that have high intensity sweeteners added and which bear claims such as “unsweetened” or “no sugar added,” a declaration of “artificially sweetened” should be clearly visible on the FOP. The specific sweetener does not need to be identified so long as it is declared in the list of ingredients. As long as quantity is displayed on the nutrition facts table it doesn’t need to be on the principal display.
Further, while we recognize that harmonizing with USA labelling regulations is desirable, we recommend strongly against the use of the term “phenylketonurics.” The proper approach would be to use the phrase “people with phenylketonuria” for any warnings on products containing aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.
For many Canadians, their diet can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle. Determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. The CMA supports the government’s Healthy Living Strategy and their efforts to create a healthier food environment. The addition of FOP nutrition labelling is an important tool to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-president, Medical Professionalism
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide comment on the proposal by Health Canada1 to revise the listing for naloxone on the Prescription Drug List (PDL) to allow the non-prescription use of naloxone, "when indicated for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings".
The CMA has over 83,000 physician-members. Its mission is helping physicians care for patients and its vision is to be the leader in engaging and serving physicians, and the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.
The harms associated with opioids, which include prescription medicines such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin, is a significant public health and patient safety issue. Harms include addiction, diversion, overdose and death.
According to 2013 estimates2, Canada has one of the highest per capita consumptions of prescription opioids in the world. In North America, about 5% of the adult population, and substantially higher rates for teens and young adults, reported non-medical opioid use in the previous year. This rate is higher than all other illegal drugs, with the exception of marijuana.3
Data on the harms caused by opioids are not collected systematically in Canada; however, practitioners have seen the significant impact of these drugs on their patients and to whole communities, including indigenous peoples. Opioid addiction rates from 43% to 85% have been reported in some indigenous communities.4 5 In Ontario, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner, opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2002 to 2010.6
Canada's physicians believe that Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs, whether illegal or prescription-based.7 One component of this strategy is the prevention of overdose deaths and complications with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response.
For over four decades, naloxone (or Narcan(r)) has been used as a prescription drug for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdoses. Naloxone counteracts the life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally. The World Health Organization placed naloxone on its list of essential medications in 1983.
Physicians have been encouraged to identify patients who could benefit from the co-prescription of naloxone, along with opioids, when these are necessary. Increased risk for opioid overdose includes previous episodes of overdose, history of substance use disorder, higher opioid dosages, or concurrent benzodiazepine use.8 9
More recently, with the increase in opioid overdoses, different provinces have created programs to increase access to naloxone outside of health care settings, such as "take-home naloxone programs". The experience in Canada and in other countries has been shown to have various benefits, including reducing overdose deaths.10 11 In Canada, naloxone has been administered through intramuscular or subcutaneous injection in these community-based programs, but in other countries it has also been available in a nasal spray form or in a pre-filled auto-injector format. Those that receive the naloxone kit are trained in the recognition of signs and symptoms of opioid overdose, in the administration of naloxone and first aid and in the need to call for medical follow-up.
In its 2015 policy on Harms associated with Opioids and other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs, the CMA supports the improvement of access to naloxone, particularly by individuals who are at a high risk of overdose as well as third parties who can assist a person experiencing an opiate-related overdose. The CMA also encourages the creation and scaling up of community-based programs that offer access to naloxone and other opioid overdose prevention tools and services. This would include training for health workers, first responders, as well as opioid users, families and peers about the prevention of overdose fatalities.12 Also in 2015, the CMA approved a resolution supporting "the development and implementation of a national strategy on the use of naloxone".13
A report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization supports making naloxone available to first responders as well as to people dependent on opioids, their peers and family members who are likely to be present when an overdose occurs.14 Many other organizations, such as the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, are also supportive of enhanced access to naloxone in the community.15 16 17
The prescription status has been one of the barriers to increased access to naloxone. It is more likely that a family member, partner or friend would need to administer the naloxone in an overdose than the person who is prescribed the drug. Community-based programs have had to work with standing orders from prescribers. First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, should be able to carry and administer the drug, given they are often the first professionals to arrive at a scene where someone has overdosed.
According to Health Canada, the provinces and territories have collectively asked that the prescription status be re-evaluated. Health Canada has undertaken a Benefit-Harm-Uncertainty assessment of naloxone, and come to the following conclusions:
This assessment recommended that naloxone could safely be administered without the direct supervision of a physician if the person administering the drug has appropriate training.
The main risks associated with the unsupervised use of the drug are:
* the administrator may have difficulty filling the syringe and administering the drug under pressure in an emergency situation;
* the administrator may not seek professional care for follow-up of the patient after injection;
* chance of the patient relapsing since the effects of naloxone may only last for up to one hour depending on amount and type of opioid causing the overdose;
* that the patient may become very agitated and aggressive after coming out of the opioid depression (Acute Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome).
These risks can be mitigated with appropriate training of the potential administrator before naloxone is distributed. The benefit of quickly responding to an overdose far outweighed these risks. Evidence from provincial take-home programs indicates that naloxone can be administered (intramuscularly or subcutaneously) by a layperson and its effects monitored successfully without practitioner supervision. Although an opioid overdose might be mistakenly diagnosed by a layperson, the injection of naloxone in a person not overdosing on an opioid will cause no serious harm.18
Various jurisdictions have delisted or are studying special conditions for the status of naloxone as a prescription drug, including Italy and some U.S. States.19
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback on this important matter to physicians, and congratulates Health Canada in taking the initiative to make naloxone more accessible in the community; thereby helping to address the concerning levels of opioid overdoses in Canada.
That Health Canada proceed with the revisions to the listing for naloxone on the Prescription Drug List, to allow the non-prescription use of naloxone when indicated for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings. As outlined in Health Canada's assessment, the potential risks can be mitigated by well-designed community-based programs.
That Health Canada assess the option of licensing naloxone products that don't require training for intramuscular or subcutaneous injection, such as nasal sprays or automated handheld injectors (similar to epinephrine auto-injectors for use in serious allergic reactions), in order to further increase accessibility.
1 Health Canada. Consultation on the Prescription Drug List: Naloxone. File number: 16-100479-342. January 14 2016. Ottawa. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/drug-medic/pdl_ldo_consult_naloxone-eng.php (accessed 2016 March 17).
2 International Narcotics Control Board. Narcotics drugs: estimated world requirements for 2013; statistics for 2011. New York: United Nations; 2013. Available: https://www.incb.org/documents/Narcotic-Drugs/Technical-Publications/2012/NDR_2012_Annex_2_EFS.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
3 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction. 2013;109:177-81.
4 Chiefs of Ontario. Prescription drug abuse strategy: 'Take a stand.' Final report. Toronto: Chiefs of Ontario; 2010. Available: www.chiefs-of-ontario.org/sites/default/files/files/Final%20Draft%20Prescription%20Drug%20Abuse%20Strategy.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
5 Health Canada. Honouring our strengths: a renewed framework to address substance use issues among First Nations people in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2011. Available: http://nnadaprenewal.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Honouring-Our-Strengths-2011_Eng1.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
6 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy Document PD15-06 - Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescriptions drugs. Ottawa: The Author; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed 2016-March 17).
8 National Opioid Use Guideline Group. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University; 2010. Available: http://nationalpaincentre.mcmaster.ca/opioid/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
9 Dowell D, Haegerich TM, Chou R. CDC guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain-United States, 2016. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2016;65(RR-1):1-49. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1er.htm?s_cid=rr6501e1er_w (accessed 2016 March 17).
10 Walley AY, Xuan Z, Hackman HH, et al. Opioid overdose rates and implementation of overdose education and nasal naloxone distribution in Massachusetts: Interrupted time series analysis. BMJ. 2013;346:f174. Available: http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/346/bmj.f174.full.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
11 Banjo, O, Tzemis, D, Al-Outub, D, et al. A quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the British Columbia Take Home Naloxone program. CMAJ Open, August 21, 2014;2(3) E153-E161. Available: http://cmajopen.ca/content/2/3/E153.full (accessed 2016 March 17).
12 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
13 Canadian Medical Association. Policy Resolution GC15-18 - National strategy on the use of naloxone. Ottawa: The Author; 2015. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 March 17).
14 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime / World Health Organization Opioid overdose: preventing and reducing opioid overdose mortality. Discussion Paper UNODC/WHO 2013. Available: http://www.unodc.org/docs/treatment/overdose.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
15 American Medical Association. AMA adopts new policies at annual meeting. Press Release. New York, NY: Reuters; June 19, 2012. Available: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS182652+19-Jun-2012+GNW20120619 (accessed 2016 March 17).
16 Drug Policy Alliance. American Public Health Association Policy Statement on Preventing Overdose Through Education and Naloxone Distribution. New York, NY: Drug Policy Alliance; October 30, 2012. Available: http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/american-public-health-association-policy-statement-preventing-overdose-through-education-a (accessed 2016 March 17).
17 Canadian Pharmacists Association. CPhA Welcomes Health Canada Move to Change Prescription Status of Naloxone. News Release. January 14, 2016. Available: https://www.pharmacists.ca/news-events/news/cpha-welcomes-health-canada-move-to-change-prescription-status-of-naloxone/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
18 Health Canada. Consultation on the Prescription Drug List: Naloxone. File number: 16-100479-342. January 14 2016. Ottawa. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/drug-medic/pdl_ldo_consult_naloxone-eng.php (accessed 2016 March 17).
19 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime / World Health Organization Opioid overdose: preventing and reducing opioid overdose mortality. Discussion Paper UNODC/WHO 2013. Available: http://www.unodc.org/docs/treatment/overdose.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am responding to your request for consultation on renewal of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy (FTCS) and on the consultation document: “Seizing the Opportunity: The Future of Tobacco Control in Canada.” We are pleased that Health Canada is renewing the FTCS.
The most recent Canadian Community Health Survey reports that 17.7% of the population aged 12 and older were current daily or occasional smokers in 2015 (5.3 million smokers); that is down from 18.1% in 2014. The decrease is welcome news but much more needs to be done to ensure the decline continues.
We support the Endgame Summit’s goal of less than 5% tobacco use by 2035. It must be recognized that specific sub-populations, such as Indigenous populations, will require different targets along with prevalence reduction goals that recognize their unique circumstances and needs. Tobacco has ceremonial significance among Indigenous peoples; the harm associated with tobacco arises not from its ceremonial use but from its daily, repeated abuse.
As the Summit suggests a renewed strategy must go beyond the traditional approaches of incremental stricter measures by focussing on the activities of the tobacco industry while offering more assistance to those affected by tobacco products. The whole-of-government approach recommended by the Summit and the framework it proposes are essential for the success of the strategy in the long-term.
The CMA believes that despite the reduction in smoking rates, tobacco control remains a priority and should continue to be supported by a sustained, well-funded federal strategy and strong leadership and support from Health Canada, including a coordinated, comprehensive
national cessation strategy. We recommend that the next version of the FTCS make the following initiatives a priority:
. Pricing There is abundant evidence that high prices are crucial to discouraging tobacco use, especially among young people who are particularly sensitive to price increases. The Summit’s recommendation of a joint pricing strategy developed by Health Canada and Finance Canada that combines substantial excise tax increases and other measures will be key in that regard. As in reducing prevalence, pricing strategies that recognize the unique circumstances and needs of specific sub-populations will need to be developed.
. Plain and Standardized Tobacco Packaging The CMA recommends only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top” package be removed. This would reduce the permitted style to one standard package and allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information. The CMA also supports a single allowable length of cigarette and that a minimum diameter or width be established. The purpose is to eliminate the sale of “slims” and “super slims” cigarettes to eliminate the possibility of these products as being considered “healthier.”
. Retailing The CMA recommends tightening the licensing system to limit the number of outlets where tobacco products can be purchased. The more restricted is tobacco availability, the easier it is to regulate.
. Age of sale The CMA supports continued health promotion and social marketing programs aimed at addressing the reasons why young people use tobacco, preventing them from starting to use tobacco and encouraging them to quit, and raising their awareness of tobacco industry marketing tactics so that they can recognize and counteract them. The CMA supports raising the minimum age of sale to 21 years.
. Promotion Tobacco manufacturers make frequent use of subtle marketing messages to render smoking attractive and glamorous to young people. The CMA supports educational and public relations initiatives aimed at countering these messages. For example, movie classification systems should restrict access by children and youth to films that portray tobacco use and tobacco product placement. The CMA also supports a total ban on promotion, including tobacco-branded tobacco accessories and non-tobacco products.
. Industry interference The CMA supports the Endgame Summit’s recommendations with respect to preventing the tobacco industry’s interference with health policy (i.e., Article 5.3 Guidelines to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).
It is the CMA’s position that the federal government has a vital role to play in smoking cessation. A fully funded and resourced tobacco control strategy that meets the challenges of the 21st century will help accomplish that goal.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-president, Medical Professionalism
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide its comments with respect to the Government of Canada's consultation on the Proposed Excise Duty Framework for Cannabis Products published November 10.1
In the move towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis, there are many economic interests at play; private corporations and different levels of government stand to benefit greatly with sales and considerable tax revenue.2 It is essential that the federal and provincial/territorial governments be held accountable to the public health and safety objectives set out for the new regime for legal access to cannabis, particularly that of protecting children and youth.3 It is fundamental that commercialization is rigorously controlled through taxation, regulation, monitoring and advertising controls.
Final pricing must be such as to discourage the illegal production and trafficking of cannabis. However, a balance must be found with the use of taxation and pricing levers to discourage use. Revenues need to be clearly earmarked to cover the health and social costs of legalization. In some U.S. jurisdictions, for example, some of the revenue is directed to recovering the costs of regulatory programs as well as in substance use treatment programs, and for social programs.
Most of the future tax revenues should be redistributed to the provinces and territories. This is because they have jurisdiction over services that will likely feel the impact with legalization, such as health care, education, social and other services, as well as enforcement of legislation and regulations. A public health approach to legalization will emphasize prevention, education and treatment initiatives which require adequate and reliable funding. It will also require strong surveillance and monitoring activities to adjust measures should unintended harms be detected. Resources need to be promptly available to address potential negative impacts.
CMA recommends that the revenue resulting from the taxation of cannabis production and sales be earmarked to address health and social harms of cannabis use and its commercialization, in line with a public health approach to the legalization of cannabis.
The proposal states that "Any cannabis products sold under the proposed Cannabis Act for medical purposes will be subject to the duty rates and conditions of the excise duty framework, which will become applicable as per the transitional rules (...) Cannabis products that are produced by an individual (or a designated person) for the individual's own medical purposes in accordance with the proposed Cannabis Act will not be subject to the excise duty. Seeds and seedlings used in this production will be subject to duty."1
The CMA is supportive of similar taxation treatment of cannabis products, regardless of whether they are used for medical or non-medical purposes.
The CMA has long called for more research to better understand potential therapeutic indications of cannabis, as well as its risks.4 5 Physicians recognize that some individuals suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective may obtain relief with cannabis used for medical purposes. However, clinical evidence of medical benefits is limited and there is very limited guidance for the therapeutic use, including indications, potency, interactions with medications and adverse effects. Health Canada does not approve of cannabis as a medicine, as it has not gone through the approvals required by the regulatory process to be a pharmaceutical. It is important that there be support for cannabis research in order to develop products that can be held to pharmaceutical standards, as is the case with dronabinol (Marinol(r)), nabilone (Cesamet(r)) and THC/CBD (Sativex(r)).
The experience of legalization for non-medical use in Colorado and Washington has shown that two separate regimes with distinct regulations can be very difficult to enforce given the different standards.6 A lower tax rate on cannabis for medical use could potentially provide an incentive for people to seek a medical authorization, and that was observed initially in Colorado.7
The CMA recommends that the same tax rates be applied to the production and sales of both the medical and the non-medical use of cannabis products.
The move towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis will require a balanced approach to discourage the illegal production and trafficking of cannabis while also using taxation and pricing levers to discourage use. Much of the revenues raised should be redistributed to the provinces and territories to enable them to cover the health and social costs of legalization.
A public health approach to legalization will emphasize prevention, education, treatment and surveillance initiatives which requires adequate and reliable funding.
1 Department of Finance Canada. Proposed excise duty framework for cannabis products. Ottawa: Department of Finance Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.fin.gc.ca/n17/data/17-114_1-eng.asp (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
2 Sen A, Wyonch R. Don't (over) tax that joint, my friend. Intelligence MEMOS. Ottawa: CD Howe Institute; 2017 Jul 19. Available: https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/blog_Anindya%20and%20Rosalie_0719.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 06).
3 Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation. Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Ministry of Health. Toward the legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. Discussion paper. Ottawa: Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat; 2016. Available: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/health-system-systeme-sante/consultations/legalization-marijuana-legalisation/alt/legalization-marijuana-legalisation-eng.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). A public health perspective on cannabis and other illegal drugs. CMA Submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. Ottawa: CMA; 2002. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/cannabis.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Medical Marijuana. CMA Policy. Ottawa: CMA; 2011. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/PD11-02-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
6 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). Cannabis regulation: Lessons learned in Colorado and Washington State. Ottawa: CCSA; 2015. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cannabis-Regulation-Lessons-Learned-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
7 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Legalized cannabis: Fiscal considerations. Ottawa: Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer; 2016. Available: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2016/Legalized%20Cannabis/Legalized%20Canabis%20Fiscal%20Considerations_EN.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation on new and innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the federal government’s health-focussed approach to substance use issues through the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)
What sorts of circumstances do you see within your networks, communities or in society that you think contribute to problematic substance use?
There are multiple factors that contribute to problematic substance use. It is a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. However, using the social determinants as a framework, most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the traditional health and medical care services. .
Many Canadians face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which can contribute to problematic substance use, and certain populations are at higher risk given these circumstances. For example, early childhood is a critical time in the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of a person. Experiences in early life can ‘get under the skin’, changing the ways that genes are expressed. Negative experiences such as poverty or family or parental violence can have significant impacts on this important period of development.
What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
Have you seen or experienced programs, practices or models at the local or regional level that could be expanded, or implemented more broadly, to improve circumstances or social determinants of health that influence substance use?
Income is critical to individual health and is closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment. Adequate consideration must be given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. Minimizing poverty should be a top priority.
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
Drug use must not be treated with a criminal justice approach, which does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. More investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system. Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
What needs to change to make sure that opioid medications are being provided and used appropriately, based on the needs of each patient?
Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as problematic substance use, and as such have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use.
Treatment options and services for both problematic substance use as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada. Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies; appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and a focus on patient participation and empowerment.12 Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
It is also important to support clinicians in their practice. The 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines need to be kept current through ongoing funding. Physicians require tools, including those that facilitate monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; and, tapering of problematic or ineffective doses.
How can we make sure that those who require prescription opioids to manage their pain have access to them, without judgement or discrimination?
Governments need to incorporate the identification and elimination of stigma as a quality of care indicator in the ongoing monitoring of health system performance at all levels. They also need to implement and evaluate national public awareness and education strategies to counteract the stigma associated with substance use issues as well as enforcing legislation and regulations to guard against discrimination against people with mental and substance use issues.
Health professionals need to have access to education on pain management and treatment of problematic substance use, recognizing both issues as serious medical conditions for which there are effective treatments.
Which kinds of messages would work best to help Canadians understand the serious harms that can result from stigma around substance use?
A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada cited stigma as “an enormous barrier to individuals seeking and maintaining treatment.” Even though there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, until very recently the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy was heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach with an emphasis on enforcement, as opposed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction.8 This has serious implications in how society views people who use drugs. As noted in the CCSA-Public Safety report, “Language matters. Speak about people first, with compassion and respect.”13
A stigma reduction strategy must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours; thus, a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level. The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
How can we best act to reduce stigma across the country?
Engagement with people who use drugs to help them share their stories and experiences with stigma with the public
What would you recommend to improve substance use treatment services in Canada?
This challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further this aim, Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the other two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant. One of the fundamental principles of health care is that it be patient centred.11 CMA defines patient-centred care as “seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner … that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family and treats the patient with respect and dignity.”
It is essential that patients be core members of the health care team, working with health care providers to address their individual needs, preferences and aspirations and to seek their personal paths to well-being. Physicians and other health professionals can help patients make choices about their treatment and can provide information and support to patients and their families as they seek to cope with the effects of problematic use and live functional lives. The health care provider community needs tools to assist in the reduction of stigma, access to resources and supportive environments.
What obstacles or barriers do people face when they want to access treatment in Canada?
Obstacles to treatment include the lack of publicly-funded treatment centres, access to locations for remote areas, limited number of beds available, the cost of private treatment (lack of insurance), and stigma. The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for treatment that address different needs.12 Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that treatment programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
In addition to current harm reduction initiatives – such as supervised consumption sites, needle exchange programs – what other harm reduction services should governments consider implementing in Canada?
There is a dire need to address harm reduction in prisons. Even back in 2005, the CMA recommended to the Correctional Service of Canada that it develop, implement and evaluate a pilot needle exchange program in prison(s) under its jurisdiction. These services are not widespread and accessible to prison populations. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection because they are denied access to sterile injection equipment as a harm reduction strategy.
Hospitals need to incorporate harm reduction strategies as well, allowing people who use drugs to access much needed health services.
How can we better bring public health and law enforcement together to explore ways to reduce the cycle of involvement for people who use substances with the criminal justice system?
Training for police and other frontline criminal justice and corrections workers in how to interact with people with substance use issues is essential. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach. Changes to the criminal law affecting cannabis must not promote normalization of its use and must be tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention and provides for comprehensive treatment.13
The CMA recognized that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach. The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm.
What further steps can the federal government take to better address current regulation and enforcement priorities, such as addressing organized drug crime and the dangerous illegal drugs like fentanyl being brought into Canada?
The federal government must continue to work closely with the RCMP, local and provincial law enforcement agencies, Canada Post, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Crown attorneys, the Canadian military, and international health officials and law enforcement agencies to address this issue. This topic was covered in the recent CCSA/Public Safety Canada report.10
Recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination, how can all governments work together to address the high rates of problematic substance use faced by some Indigenous communities?
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care. Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems.
While geography is a significant barrier for Indigenous peoples, it is not the only one. Indigenous peoples living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on indigenous programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Canada's indigenous peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status. It is important that problematic substance use programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, problematic substance use and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians.11 Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and substance use is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community health strategies. The establishment of a working groups comprised of First Nations and Inuit health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate strategies and programming in these communities.
What can we learn from Indigenous approaches to problematic substance use, such as using holistic approaches, that may help inform activities under the CDSS?
The federal government must consult First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives to develop programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Indigenous communities.
How can governments, and the health, social, and law enforcement sectors design more effective substance use policies and programs for at-risk populations?
The government must identify and consult those communities and populations most at risk. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives, community advocates, municipalities, and provincial and local public health officers. Data that describes rates of use and issues specific to each at risk group is important to be able to better understand and address needs.
What are effective policies and programs to help improve access to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for at-risk populations?
There are innovative approaches to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. For example, the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/).
What urgent gaps related to substance use (in terms of data, surveillance, and/or research) need to be addressed in Canada?
Improvements are being made in the collection of data in Canada. This is crucial to be able to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes.12 As well, the government must continue to improve the ability of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the chief coroners of Canada and related agencies to collect, analyze and report data.
One such program is the surveillance system in the United States called RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system) that is “a surveillance system that collects product-and geographically-specific data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of prescription drugs.” It surveys data involving opioids including poison control centres, treatment programs, on the “illicit acquisition or distribution of prescription opioids, stimulants, and other prescription drugs of interest from entities investigating drug diversion cases,” among other opioid-related issues.
The CMA has recommended that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary. Further, PMPs are a valuable component in addressing the gaps related to substance use.
How can we use research tools to better identify emerging substance use issues as early as possible?
See above response to question 18 - “RADARS”
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Sproule B. Prescription Monitoring Programs in Canada: Best Practice and Program Review. Ottawa, ON, 2015 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Monitoring-Programs-in-Canada-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
The Canadian Medical Association appreciates this opportunity to respond to Health Canada’s consultation on the proposed regulations for edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals.
The CMA’s approach to cannabis is grounded in public health policy. It includes promotion of health and prevention of problematic use; access to assessment, counselling and treatment services; and a harm reduction perspective. The CMA endorsed the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines and has expressed these views in our recommendations to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, recommendations regarding Bill C-45. As well, we submitted comments to Health Canada with respect to the consultation on the proposed regulatory approach for the Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.
Canada’s physicians have a longstanding concern about the health risks associated with consuming cannabis. , Consumers use these products for both recreational and medical purposes, compelling the need for accuracy in the labeling as well as quality control in the manufacturing process.10
Cannabis Edibles, Extracts and Topicals
Cannabis will have a different effect on the user, depending on whether it is smoked or ingested, as in an edible. It has been found that “smoking marijuana results in clinical effects within 10 minutes, peak blood concentrations occur between 30 and 90 minutes, and clearance is complete within 4 hours of inhalation. Oral THC does not reach significant blood concentration until at least 30 minutes, with a peak at approximately 3 hours, and clearance approximately 12 hours after ingestion.” Because of the delay in absorption when ingested, people might consume more to feel the psychoactive effects faster. This might lead to the consumption of very high doses and result in toxic effects, such as anxiety, paranoia and in rare cases, a psychotic reaction with delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech and agitation.
Rates of use of edibles are not well known. A recent study in California high schools found that “polyuse via multiple administration methods was a predominant pattern of cannabis use and report the first evidence, to our knowledge, of triple product polyuse of combustible, edible, and vaporized cannabis among youths.”
We are limiting our response to Health Canada’s consultation questions that pertain to the CMA’s position with respect to cannabis and relate to our expertise and knowledge base.
Proposed THC limits for the new classes of cannabis products
Standardization within all classes of cannabis products in a legal regime is essential. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in black market products can vary widely so one can never be assured of the strength being purchased, creating the potential for significant harm. ,
Experience in jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized has shown that restrictions on the potency of products (i.e., THC limits) are necessary, given the higher risks of harm associated with higher potencies.2 Prohibition of high potency products is important.3
THC limits should be based on the best available evidence of safety for consumers. The increased potency of cannabis over the years raises concerns about its use in edibles, extracts and topicals, offering a significant challenge with respect to regulating their use. This becomes particularly worrisome with respect to preadolescents and adolescents who should avoid using cannabis due to concerns with the impact on the developing brain.2 Use has been associated with a “significant increased risk of developing depression or suicidality in young adulthood.”
More research is needed with respect to the effects of cannabis on all age groups, especially children, adolescents and seniors. Saunders et al describe the case of an elderly patient with a history of coronary artery disease suffering what appears to have been a myocardial infarction after ingesting most of a marijuana lollipop that contained 90 mg of THC. Such cases demonstrate how crucial it is to establish appropriate levels of THC. This is an especially important consideration because “consuming cannabis-infused edibles may inadvertently result in toxicity because absorption can take hours, compared with minutes when smoking. An individual who does not yet feel an effect may over-consume.”
Small children and people with cognitive impairment will not be able to read labels, so preventive measures are very important, as with any pharmaceutical. Since legalizing cannabis, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Center has reported an increase in calls related to edible exposures. Children can accidentally eat products that contain cannabis, making them ill enough to seek medical assistance.
The CMA maintains that the proposed draft regulations of 10 mg per discrete unit and package is too high and should be established at a maximum of 5 mg per dose, given the higher risks of overconsumption with edibles, the risks of accidents in children and the experience in other jurisdictions. Colorado’s limit was set at 10 mg per unit, and health authorities recognize that a lower limit would have been warranted to prevent more accidents. Other preventive measures, such as child proof packaging, are considered in other sections of this brief.
The amount of THC must be displayed clearly and prominently on the package to help prevent accidental or overconsumption of the product.
Rules addressing the types of ingredients and additives that could be used in edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals appropriately address public health and safety risks while enabling sufficient product diversity
The CMA concurs with the proposed regulations. Experience in areas such as caffeinated, high-sugar alcoholic beverages provides ample evidence to proceed with restraint concerning the types of ingredients and additives that may be permitted in edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals.
Proposed new rules for the packaging and labelling of the new classes of cannabis products
The CMA reiterates its position with respect to the packaging and labelling of cannabis products as presented in its submission on the proposed approach to the regulation of cannabis.5 This includes:
a requirement for plain and standard packaging
prohibition of the use of appealing flavours and shapes,
a requirement for adequate content and potency labelling,
a requirement for comprehensive health warnings,
a requirement for childproof packaging, and
a requirement that the content in a package should not be sufficient to cause an overdose.
Plain and standardized packaging is necessary with respect to edibles as their wider availability raises several public health issues, not the least of which is ingestion by young children. It is imperative that the packages and labels of edibles not resemble popular confectionaries, for example. As the Canadian Paediatric Society has noted, “the unintended consumption of edibles manufactured to look like sweets by younger children is particularly concerning.”15 Also, by “restricting the extent to which marijuana edibles can look and taste like familiar sweets, (it) could also keep the psychological barriers to marijuana initiation among children and adolescents from being lowered.” The CMA has adopted similar positions with respect to tobacco and vaping products. , ,
It is recognized that these regulations are targeted at products meant for the adult market, but the entry of these new classes also creates challenges beyond that audience. Teens are attracted to vaping cannabis rather than smoking it because “smoke is not combusted and also may allow for more covert use given the reduction in odor.” , As well, as “edibles have no odor, they are largely undetectable to parents.”23
The CMA views this as an opportunity to educate Canadians about the health, social and economic harms of cannabis especially in young people. Package inserts must outline and reinforce the health risks involved; they must also be designed by governments and health professionals, not cannabis producers or distributors.
Inserts should include:5
information on securing the product in the home to prevent access by youth and children,
recommendations not to drive or to work with hazardous chemicals or operate equipment while using the contents of the package,
information on the health and social consequences (including legal penalties) of providing cannabis to those under a designated minimum age for purchasing, and
contact information for hotlines for poison control and for crisis support.
Cannabis topicals, as outlined in the proposed regulations, would fall under the category of health products and be found in non-prescription drugs, natural health products, and cosmetics. The CMA believes that all health claims need to be substantiated with sufficient evidence that meets standards for efficacy, besides safety and quality, to protect Canadians from misleading claims.5 This is important because the level of proof required to obtain a Drug Identification Number (DIN) for prescription drugs is considerably higher than the level of proof required for a Natural Product Number (NPN); rigorous scientific evidence for effectiveness is needed for a DIN but not for an NPN. Consumers generally do not know about this distinction, believing that Health Canada has applied the same level of scrutiny to the health claims made for every product.5
Requirements for tamper-resistant and child-proof containers need to be in place to enhance consumer safety. More research is required to address the environmental concerns with extra packaging, which would result from single dose packaging. It is critical to put in place measures that make it difficult to ingest large doses of THC. Simply adding grooves to chocolate bars or baked goods, for example, separating different doses, is insufficient to prevent people, particularly children, from ingesting more than a dose (which in of itself is designed for an adult). As well, there is no guarantee that the THC is spread out uniformly throughout the product.
More research is needed with respect to “determining risks and benefits through proper clinical trials;” that includes determining the safest level of THC for extracts and topicals to reassure consumers will not be harmed by these products.18
With regards to cannabidiol (CBD), it would seem that “published data from around the world has taught us that misleading labels as well as harmful contaminants are real and actual problems for CBD products.”18 Health claims need to be substantiated via a strong evidentiary process. There will be a need for careful monitoring of the health products released in the market and the health claims made.5 Experience has shown that regulations can and will be circumvented, and these activities will have to be addressed.
Edible cannabis and the requirement for all products to be labelled with a cannabis-specific nutrition facts table
Yes. The CMA supports the use of a cannabis-specific nutrition facts table (NFT) as described in the proposed regulations.1 These products should have the same standards and regulations applied to them as traditional food products do under the Food and Drugs Regulations. As such, a cannabis-specific nutrition facts table will help consumers differentiate them from standard food products.
The proposal for the labelling of small containers and the option to display certain information on a peel-back or accordion panel
The size of the container should not be an impediment to supplying consumers with the necessary information to make informed choices. Manufacturers should be required to use whatever method (peel-back or accordion panel) is most efficient and conveys all the necessary information. As the CMA noted in a recent brief with respect to tobacco labeling the “amount of space given to the warnings should be sufficient to convey the maximum amount of information while remaining clear, visible, and legible. The warnings should be in proportion to the packaging available, like that of a regular cigarette package.”20 Adding warnings on individual cigarettes, as we recommended, illustrates that it is feasible to apply important information to even the smallest surfaces.20
It is important to note that key information should be visible on the external part of the container, including the standardized cannabis symbol, ingredients and warnings.
Proposal that the standardized cannabis symbol would be required on vaping devices, vaping cartridges, and wrappers
Yes. As noted earlier, the CMA called for strict packaging requirements around both tobacco and vaping products.22 The requirement for the standardized cannabis symbol is an extension of that policy and to the labelling of cannabis products in general.5
Proposed new good production practices, such as the requirement to have a Preventive Control Plan, appropriately address the risks associated with the production of cannabis, including the risk of product contamination and cross-contamination
Yes. The CMA concurs with this requirement.
The requirement that the production of edible cannabis could not occur in a building where conventional food is produced
Yes. The CMA concurs with this requirement. Separate facilities are necessary to prevent cross-contamination for the protection of consumer health and safety.
The CMA supports the federal government’s commitment to a three-year legislative review as it affords the opportunity to evaluate the regulations’ impact and adjust them as needed. It continues to be important to have good surveillance and monitoring systems, as well as to continue to learn from other jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for recreational purposes.
Public education and awareness must accompany the introduction of new forms of cannabis, emphasizing the risks of accidental ingestion and overconsumption. It should also emphasize the need for safe storage of cannabis products, as well as personal possession limits.
Much more research is needed into the impact of these new classes across all age groups, and into public health strategies that discourage use and increase harm reduction practices. It is fundamental that profit driven commercialization is rigorously controlled through taxation, regulation, monitoring and advertising controls, in a manner that is consistent with a public health approach.
Government of Canada. Canada Gazette, Part I, Volume 152, Number 51: Regulations Amending the Cannabis Regulations (New Classes of Cannabis) Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-12-22/html/reg4-eng.html (accessed 2018 Dec 22).
Fischer B, Russell C, Sabioni P, et al. Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines: A comprehensive update of
evidence and recommendations. AJPH. 2017 Aug;107(8):e1-e12. Available: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (accessed 2019 Feb 01).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana.
CMA submission to the Government of Canada – Task Force on cannabis, legalization and regulation.
Ottawa: CMA; 2016 Aug 29. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11954 (accessed 2019 Feb 01).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-45: The Cannabis Act. Submission to the House of
Commons Health Committee. Ottawa: CMA; 2017 Aug 18. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13723 (accessed 2019 Feb 01).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Proposed Approach to the Regulation of Cannabis. Ottawa: CMA; 2018 Jan 19. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13838 (accessed 2019 Feb 04).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana.
CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11138 (accessed 2019 Feb 14).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). A public health perspective on cannabis and other illegal drugs.
CMA Submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. Ottawa: CMA; 2002. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy1968 (accessed 2019 Feb 14).
Monte A, Zane R, Heard K. The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado JAMA. 2015 January 20; 313(3): 241–242 Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404298/ (accessed 2019 Feb 15).
Peters E, Bae D, Barrington-Trimis J, et al. Prevalence and Sociodemographic Correlates of Adolescent Use and Polyuse of Combustible, Vaporized, and Edible Cannabis Products JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(5): e182765. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2703946 (accessed 2019 Feb 15).
Wyonch R. Regulation of Edible and Concentrated Marijuana Products Intelligence Memos. Toronto: CD Howe Institute: 2018 Oct 2. Available: https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/blog_Rosalie_1002.pdf (accessed 2019 Feb 01).
Vandrey R, Raber JC, Raber ME, et al. Cannabinoid Dose and Label Accuracy in Edible Medical Cannabis Products. Research Letter JAMA 2015 Jun 23-30;313(24):2491-3. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2338239 (accessed 2019 Feb 06).
Cascini F, Aiello C, Di Tanna G. Increasing Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol ( -9-THC) Content in Herbal Cannabis Over Time: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2012 Mar;5(1):32-40. Available: https://www.datia.org/datia/resources/IncreasingDelta9.pdf (accessed 2019 Feb 14).
Gobbi G, Atkin T, Zytynski T, et al. Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 13. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4500. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2723657 (accessed 2019 Feb 15).
Saunders A, Stevenson RS. Marijuana Lollipop-Induced Myocardial Infarction. Can J Cardiol. 2019 Feb;35(2):229. Available: https://www.onlinecjc.ca/article/S0828-282X(18)31324-2/fulltext (accessed: 2019 Feb 11).
Grant CN, Bélanger RE.Cannabis and Canada’s children and youth. Paediatr Child Health. 2017 May;22(2):98-102. Available: https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/cannabis-children-and-youth (accessed 2019 Feb 06).
Denver Public Heath. Substance Use Exposure Dashboard. Denver: Denver Public Health; 2018. Available: http://www.denverpublichealth.org/community-health-promotion/substance-misuse/substance-use-exposure-dashboard (accessed 2019 Feb 06).
Neuwirth, J. (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment). Personal interview. (2019 Jan 30).
Paradis C, April N, Cyr C, et al. The Canadian alcopop tragedy should trigger evidence-informed revisions of federal alcohol regulations. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2019 Feb 4. Available: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/dar.12896 (accessed 2019 Feb 14).
MacCoun, RJ, Mello MM, Half-Baked — The Retail Promotion of Marijuana Edibles. N Engl J Med 2015; 372:989-991. Available: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1416014 (accessed 2019 Feb 5).
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Standardized Appearance). Ottawa: CMA; 2018. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13930 (accessed 2019 Feb 05).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada’s Consultation on New Health-related Labelling for Tobacco Products Ottawa: CMA; 2018. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13939 (accessed 2019 Feb 05).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) CMA’s Recommendations for Bill S-5: An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts Ottawa: CMA; 2017 Apr 7. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13641 (accessed 2019 Feb 05).
Johnson RM, Brooks-Russell A, Ma M, et al. Usual Modes of Marijuana Consumption Among High School Students in Colorado. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2016;77(4):580-8. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4987070/pdf/jsad.2016.77.580.pdf (accessed 2019 Feb 06).
Friese B, Slater MD, Annechino R, et al. Teen Use of Marijuana Edibles: A Focus Group Study of an Emerging Issue. J Prim Prev. 2016 June 37(3):303–309. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864086/pdf/nihms-766186.pdf (accessed 2019 Feb 06).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates this opportunity to respond to Health Canada’s consultation on Reducing Youth Access and Appeal of Vaping Products - Consultation on Potential Regulatory Measures.1
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 supported strong, comprehensive tobacco control legislation, enacted and enforced by all levels of government, and we continue to do so. 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 all levels of government in Canada to continue working on comprehensive, coordinated and effective tobacco control strategies, including vaping products, to achieve the goal of reducing smoking prevalence.
The CMA has stated its position to the federal government on electronic cigarettes and vaping clearly in recent years.2,3 In our April 2017 submission on Bill S-5 to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology we recommended that the restrictions on promotion of vaping products and devices should be the same as those for tobacco products.2 We also argued that the government should take the same approach to plain and standardized packaging regulations for e-cigarettes as has now been implemented for tobacco products.2
In our most recent brief we addressed the two main issues outlined in the government’s Notice of Intent with respect to the advertising of vaping products: the placement of that advertising and the use of health warnings.3,4 We expressed concerns that the proposed regulations leave too wide an opening for vaping manufacturers to promote their products, especially to youth. Further, we reiterated our position that health warnings for vaping should be like those being considered for tobacco packages.
This brief will address the issues of greatest concern to the CMA with respect to vaping and youth. This includes marketing, flavours, nicotine levels, and reducing vaping and e-cigarette use among youths.
The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health have expressed alarm at the rising number of Canadian youths who are vaping, finding this trend “very troubling.”5 The Canadian Medical Association concurs with this assessment and appeals to the federal government to move urgently on this important public health issue.
As our knowledge about the risks of using e-cigarettes increases, there is an even greater imperative to dissuade youth from taking up the habit. This is important because those youth “who believe that e-cigarettes are not harmful or are less harmful than cigarettes are more likely to use e-cigarettes than youth with more negative views of e-cigarettes.”6
The e-cigarette marketplace is evolving quickly as new products emerge. The industry has made clever use of social media channels to promote their wares by taking advantage of the belief that they are a safer alternative to cigarettes.7 They have also promoted “innovative flavoring and highlighted the public performance of vaping.”7 It is no surprise that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has referred to youth vaping as an “epidemic,” calling it “one of the biggest public health challenges currently facing the FDA.”8 As the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has noted “young people who begin with e-cigarettes are more likely to transition to combustible cigarette use and become smokers who are at risk to suffer the known health burdens of combustible tobacco cigarettes.”9
However, some of the efforts employed to convince youth to take up vaping are especially troublesome. As the
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “one in 5 (US) high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2018,” a significant rise in the number of high school students between 2011 and 2018.10 The use of social media campaigns employing “influencers” to capture more of the youth and young adult market or influence their choices shows the need to be especially vigilant.11 In an attempt to counter this influence, a group of over 100 public health and anti-tobacco organizations from 48 countries “are calling on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snap to take “swift action” to curb advertising of tobacco products on their platforms.”12
As much as the industry is making major efforts to attract or sway customers through advertising, youth themselves may hold the key to countering that pressure. A recent US study found that “adolescents generally had somewhat negative opinions of other adolescents who use e-cigarettes. Building on adolescents’ negativity toward adolescent e-cigarette users may be a productive direction for prevention efforts, and clinicians can play an important role by keeping apprised of the products their adolescent patients are using and providing information on health effects to support negative opinions or dissuade formation of more positive ones.”13 Health Canada can play a major role in encouraging and facilitating peer-to-peer discussions on the risks associated with vaping and help to offset the social media influencers.14
We reiterate the concerns we expressed in our recent brief on the potential measures to reduce advertising of vaping products and to help diminish their appeal to youth. The CMA noted that the sections most problematic to the Association were those encompassing public places, broadcast media, and the publications areas.3 Vaping advertisements should not be permitted at all in any of these spaces, with no exceptions.3 These areas need to be addressed on an urgent basis.
As of 2013, over 7,000 flavours had been marketed in the US.15 The data indicated that “about 85% of youth who used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days adopted non-tobacco flavors such as fruit, candy, and dessert.”15 Flavours are helpful in attracting youth, especially when coupled with assertions of lower harm.13 And they have been successful in doing so, as evidenced by the rise in the rates of vaping among youth.8, 16
The addition of a wide variety of flavours available in the pods makes them taste more palatable and less like smoking tobacco.16,17,18 The concern is that e-cigarettes “may further entice youth to experiment with e-cigarettes and boost e-cigarettes’ influence on increased cigarette smoking susceptibility among youth.”15 More worrisome, flavoured e-cigarettes “are recruiting females and those with low smoking-risk profile to experiment with conventional cigarettes.”19
Limiting the availability of “child-friendly flavors” should be considered to reduce the attraction of vaping to youth.19 In a recent announcement, the US FDA has proposed to tighten e-cigarette sales and “remove from the market many of the fruity flavors …blamed on fueling “epidemic” levels of teen use.”20 As we have noted in previous submissions, the CMA would prefer to see flavours banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible, a sentiment shared by other expert groups. 2,3,21
One of the most popular devices to vape with is JUUL™, entering the US market in 2015.22 JUUL’s™ nicotine pods contain 5% nicotine salt solution consisting of 59 mg/mL in 0.7 mL pods.17 Some of JUUL’s™ competition have pods containing even higher levels (6% and 7%).17
The CMA is very concerned about the rising levels of nicotine available through the vaping process, especially by the newer delivery systems. 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.”23
Nicotine, among other issues, “affects the developing brain by increasing the risk of addiction, mood disorders, lowered impulse control, and cognitive impairment.15,24 In addition to flavours, and to ease delivery and to make the taste more pleasant, nicotine salts are added to make the e-liquid “less harsh and less bitter” and “more
palatable despite higher nicotine levels.”17
Addressing the Rise in Youth Vaping
There are many factors that lead youth to experiment with vaping and e-cigarettes. For some it is simple curiosity, for others it is the availability of different flavours while still others perceive vaping as “cool,” especially when they can use the vapour to perform “smoke tricks.”25 The pod devices themselves (e.g., JUUL™) help enhance the allure because of the “unique aesthetic appeal of pod devices, ability to deliver nicotine at high concentrations and the convenience of using them quickly and discreetly.”26
As vaping continues to grow in popularity, it will not be easy to curb youths’ enthusiasm for it. However, it is too important of a public health issue to not intervene More research is needed into how youth perceive vaping and e-cigarettes as they do not hold a universally positive view of the habit.7,13 As well, there is evidence to suggest that many are coming to see vaping as being “uncool” and that there are potential health consequences to continued use.25
In view of the still-evolving evidence of the safety of vaping and e-cigarettes, “strategic and effective health communication campaigns that demystify the product and counteract misconceptions regarding e-cigarette use are needed.”25 Further, “to reduce youth appeal, regulation efforts can include restricting the availability of e-cigarette flavors as well as visible vapors.”25 Another approach to consider is the state of Colorado’s recent creation of “a health advisory recommending that health care providers screen all youth specifically for vaping, in addition to tobacco use, because young people may not necessarily associate tobacco with vaping.”27
1. The CMA calls for all vaping advertising to be strictly limited. The restrictions on the marketing and promotion of vaping products and devices should be the same as those for tobacco products.
2. The CMA recommends the limitation of number of flavours available to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth.
3. Health Canada should work to restrict the level of nicotine available for vaping products to avoid youth becoming addicted.
4. Health Canada must play a major role in encouraging and facilitating peer-to-peer discussions on the risks associated with vaping and help to offset the social media influencers.
5. Health Canada must develop communication campaigns directed at youth, parents and health care providers to demystify vaping and e-cigarettes and that create a link between tobacco and vaping.
1 Government of Canada. Reducing Youth Access and Appeal of Vaping Products - Consultation on Potential Regulatory Measures. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2019. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-reducing-youth-access-appeal-vaping-products-potential-regulatory-measures.html (accessed 2019 Apr 11).
2 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s Recommendations for Bill S-5: An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Nonsmokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Ottawa: CMA; 2017 Apr 7. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13641 (accessed 2019 May 13).
3 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada consultation on the impact of vaping products advertising on youth and non-users of tobacco products. Ottawa: CMA; 2019 Mar 22. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy14022 (accessed 2019 May 13).
4 Government of Canada. Notice to Interested Parties – Potential Measures to Reduce the Impact of Vaping Products Advertising on Youth and Non-users of Tobacco Products. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2019. Available:
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-measures-reduce-impact-vaping-products-advertising-youthnon-users-tobacco-products.html (accessed 2019 Feb 27).
5 Public Health Agency of Canada. Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health on the increasing rates of youth vaping in Canada. Health Canada; 2019. Available: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-the-council-of-chief-medical-officers-of-health-on-the-increasing-rates-of-youth-vaping-in-canada-812817220.html (accessed 2019 May 14).
6 Glantz SA. The Evidence of Electronic Cigarette Risks Is Catching Up with Public Perception. JAMA Network Open 2019;2(3):e191032. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.1032. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2729460 (accessed 2019 May 14).
7 McCausland K., et al. The Messages Presented in Electronic Cigarette–Related Social Media Promotions and Discussion: Scoping Review. J Med Internet Res 2019;21(2):e11953). Available: https://www.jmir.org/2019/2/e11953/ (accessed 2019 May 14).
8 Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on new data demonstrating rising youth use of tobacco products and the agency’s ongoing actions to confront the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use. Silver Spring, MD: FDA; February 11, 2019. Available: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-fda-commissioner-scott-gottlieb-md-new-data-demonstrating-rising-youth-use-tobacco (accessed 2019 May 17).
9 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Public health consequences of e-cigarettes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2018. Available: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24952/public-health-consequences-of-e-cigarettes (accessed 2019 May 17).
10 Kuehn B. Youth e-Cigarette Use. JAMA. 2019;321(2):138. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2720740 (accessed 2019 May 14).
11 Kirkum C. Philip Morris suspends social media campaign after Reuters exposes young 'influencers'. New York: Reuters; May 10, 2019. Available: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philipmorris-ecigs-instagram-exclusiv/exclusive-philip-morris-suspends-social-media-campaign-after-reuters-exposes-young-influencers-idUSKCN1SH02K (accessed 2019 May 13).
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