The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide input on the proposed regulations of the federal monitoring of Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada.
The CMA fully supports the proposed intent of the regulations, in particular, public accountability and transparency and safeguards for vulnerable patient populations. Tracking trends and carrying out research is very important to monitor the implementation and implications of medical assistance in dying.
The CMA further supports the intent to provide electronic reporting and guidance documents, and to leverage any synergies between the federal and provincial/territorial governments, especially to prevent duplication and to promote consistency in reporting across the country.
The CMA would like to raise the following critical areas for your consideration:
1. Definitions/parameters of terms
There continues to be a need to more clearly define several terms to ensure consistency of reporting. For example:
a. Who constitutes a “practitioner”? One can argue that there is a broad scope of who is “a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner”. Is it the practitioner who provides MAiD? Or he practitioner who first reads a patient’s request for MAiD? Or is the first practitioner? Or second practitioner who assesses the patient?
b. What constitutes a therapeutic relationship (as one of the eight proposed items to be collected about the practitioner)? A therapeutic relationship is not required to access MAiD. This criterion should be removed and if not, given the differences in opinion in the health professions as to what constitutes a therapeutic relationship includes, it should be clearly defined.
c. What constitutes a request, a written request, the receipt of a request? If reporting obligations are “triggered” by a patient’s “written request”, at what point is that request actually triggered? The very first practitioner who receives the patient’s written request? Or the practitioner who conducts the eligibility assessment upon receipt of the written request? Or the practitioner who provides the prescription or carries out the procedure?
d. On a related point, without clear definitions, any future comparative analysis of research or trends will be difficult as there will be no common starting point.
e. There continues to be confusion on how to count or when to start counting the required 10 clear days. There are many reasons why this requires more clarity.
2. Collection and protection of data
We applaud Health Canada for further reducing and revising data requirements. We submit, however, that further reductions are required for several reasons, including adherence to privacy best practices that require the collection of the least amount of data necessary to achieve reasonable purposes. In particular:
a. In view of the quantity and highly personal and sensitive data that will be collected about patients and practitioners, data sharing agreements should be required; for example, agreements between the federal government and provincial/territorial governments or between researchers and others requesting use of the data to facilitate the appropriate sharing of data.
b. Collection of personal information should be limited to what is relevant to the purpose of monitoring medical assistance in dying. Personal information, such as the patient’s full postal code, marital status, or principal occupation is beyond the scope of the eligibility criteria outlined in the legislation and thus beyond the scope of the purpose of monitoring the impact of the legislation.
c. Any “characteristics” of the patient should refer only to the eligibility criteria. If other data will be collected beyond that scope, the justification for doing so, and the characteristics themselves, should be clearly outlined.
d. The scope of the information collected about the practitioner could be narrowed. As is, it is very broad – a list of eight items – while the Quebec regulations, as a comparator, have only three-four items that must be collected in relation to the physician who administers MAiD.
3. Additional requirements
Schedule 4 [section 2(i)] of the proposed regulations requires that the practitioner opine as to whether the patient met, or did not meet, all of the eligibility criteria outlined in the legislation – with two significantly expanded requirements; the requirements that the practitioner: 1) provide an estimate as to the amount of time MAiD shortened the patient’s life; and 2) indicate the anticipated likely cause of natural death of the patient.
These additional requirements are beyond the letter and spirit of the legislation and, in many ways, are in direct contradiction to the legislation. The Legislature was not unaware when it drafted the Act that it did not follow other jurisdictions’ criteria requiring either a terminal illness or a prognosis of time within which the practitioner believed the patient would die, e.g., “within the next 6 months”.
It is specifically the lack of a timeframe that makes the legislation unique and provides flexibility for both patients and practitioners. By adding these two additional criteria for reporting, in effect, they become additional criteria for eligibility which is, as stated above, beyond the scope, and in contradiction to, the legislation.
4. Lack of clarity of reasons for ineligibility
There is a potential for misunderstanding as to whether reasons are required when the patient does not meet the criteria under Schedule 4, section 2(a) – (h). The introduction to section 2 speaks to the practitioner giving an indication as to (a) whether the patient met or (b) did not meet the criteria. However, in the itemized criteria [2(a)-(h)] it only speaks to the practitioner having to provide reasons when the patient meets the criteria (and not when the patient has not met the criteria). It would be helpful to specify that reasons should be required when the patient does and does not meet the criteria. This is also crucial for the publication of the Minister of Health’s annual report requiring that the reasons, and which eligibility criteria were not met, be addressed.
The CMA recognizes the importance of regulations to capture the provision, collection, use, and disposal of information for the purpose of monitoring MAiD. The CMA cautions against introducing reporting requirements that are beyond the scope of the legislation.
As noted in the legislation, practitioners who fail to provide information under the regulations may be found guilty under the Criminal Code and subject to possible imprisonment. It is thus imperative that the federal government drafts clear regulations that respect the legislation, privacy, research ethics, and a de minimus approach.
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. In this regard, 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; provide user-friendly consumer information including complete nutritional content and accurate advertising claims; and increase the amount of information provided on product labels.1 We commend Health Canada on recent work on updating the nutrition facts table and the current revision of the Canada Food Guide and are very pleased to provide a response to the consumer questionnaire on the Health Canada proposal for front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling.
FOP nutrition labelling approach and possible symbols
Do you support Health Canada's proposal to use a symbol to identify foods that are high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat? Please explain.
In 2011, appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, the CMA supported a standard "at a glance" approach to FOP food labelling that can reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices.2
There is a growing body of evidence linking the consumption of diets high in saturated fats, sugars or sodium to cardiovascular and chronic disease (hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, obesity, cancer, and heart disease and stroke) - leading preventable risk factors and causes of death and disability within Canada and worldwide. Therefore, the CMA does support the proposal to use a symbol for "high in" FOP labelling of foods high in sugar, sodium or saturated fats. FOP labelling on packaged foods may help Canadians make healthier food 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.
Which symbol would help you recognize foods high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat? Please explain.
Of the proposed symbols, we believe that those that resemble a stop sign would send a strong and recognizable signal of a food to avoid. The triangle yield sign shape is too similar to the shape often used to indicate a hazard such as poison. We would recommend holding focus groups with Canadians to better understand how the proposed symbols will be understood by consumers.
Foods that do not have nutrition labelling
Do you think these foods should be exempt from FOP symbols even if they're high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat? Please explain.
The CMA can support the exemption of FOP labelling for products in very small packages but we would like to see a provision to include information on "high in" sugar, salt or saturated fats on foods such as sausages, bakery products, prepared dishes from the deli produced and prepackaged by grocery stores/retailers as they are categories of foods often high in these nutrients. A "high in" sticker could be added to the retailer's packaging to be consistent with other packaged foods.
Nutrient levels for a "high in" FOP label
Do you think the proposed nutrient levels make sense to identify foods that are high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat? Please explain.
The CMA supports the proposed nutrient 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 that the "high in" threshold and the 15% "a lot" daily value (DV) message are consistent delivers a clear message of concern.
While we understand the rationale behind increasing the nutrient threshold for prepackaged meals to 30% of the DV, we suggest 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.
Updating nutrient content claims and other nutrition-related statements
Do you support not allowing a "no added sugars" claim on foods high in sugars? Please explain.
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.
Labelling of foods that have sweeteners
Do you support that these sweeteners be declared in the list of ingredients only, rather than in the list of ingredients and the front of the package? Please explain.
We do not support the elimination of the labelling requirement for artificial sweeteners on the principle 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.
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
1 Healthy Behaviours: Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating, Canadian Medical Association Policy, 2014, accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca.
2 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 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”
Government of Canada. Consultation on strengthening Canada’s approach to substance use issues. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-strengthening-canada-approach-substance-use-issues.html (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s recommendations for effective poverty reduction strategies. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed: 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Non-prescription availability of low-dose codeine products. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada consultation on restriction of marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-13.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
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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).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada Consultation on Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and
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 potential markets for cannabis health products that would not require practitioner oversight.1
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, counseling and treatment services; and a harm reduction perspective. The CMA endorsed the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines2 and has expressed these views in our recommendations to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation,3 and recommendations regarding Bill C-45.4 As well, we submitted comments to Health Canada with respect to the consultation on the proposed regulatory approach for the Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.5 We also responded to Health Canada’s recent Consultation on Edible Cannabis, Extracts & Topicals.6
The CMA first expressed its concerns about the sale of natural health products containing cannabis in our response to the proposed regulatory approach to the Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.5 We recognize that, in general, health products include prescription health products, non-prescription drugs, natural health products, cosmetics and medical devices. Although all these products are regulated by Health Canada, they are subject to different levels of scrutiny for safety, efficacy and quality, and in some cases, industry does not need to provide scientific evidence to support the claims made on the label.
As with all health products, the CMA supports an approach in which higher risk products, that is, those for which health claims are made, must be subject to a more meticulous standard of review. Rigorous scientific evidence is needed to support claims of health benefits and to identify potential risks and adverse reactions.
We support Health Canada’s proposal that authorized health claims for cannabis health products (CHP) would be permitted for treatment of minor ailments, on the strict condition they are substantiated via a strong evidentiary process. It is the view of the CMA that all such products making a health claim must be reviewed thoroughly for efficacy, as well as safety and quality, for the protection of Canadians.5
Recent experience in the United States supports this approach. A warning letter was sent to Curaleaf Inc. of Wakefield, Massachusetts, by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “for illegally selling unapproved products containing cannabidiol (CBD) online with unsubstantiated claims that the products treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid withdrawal, pain and pet anxiety, among other conditions or diseases.”7
This is not the first time it was necessary for the FDA to take such action. The agency had sent letters on previous occasions to other businesses over claims “to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases, such as cancer. Some of these products were in further violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because they were marketed as dietary supplements or because they involved the addition of CBD to food.”7
The CMA shares the FDA’s concerns that such claims “can put patients and consumers at risk by leading them to put off important medical care.”7 A study conducted by Dalhousie University found that only 35.8% of respondents were familiar with the biochemical properties of CBD when asked what cannabinoid they thought was potentially a pain killer.8 Systematic reviews and guidelines have highlighted the state of the science and the limited indications for which there is evidence.9,10,11
Both cannabis and CBD specifically have been approved for use in a few conditions, but more research is needed in this rapidly growing field. For example, medical cannabinoids have been approved in several jurisdictions for the treatment of multiple sclerosis but the evidence of how well it works is limited. As the Canadian authors note, “carefully conducted, high-quality studies with thought given to the biologic activity of different cannabis components are still required to inform on the benefits of cannabinoids for patients with MS.”12 Consumers need to be reassured that health claims are being assessed thoroughly so they can make informed decisions.13
Packaging and Labelling Requirements
The CMA has laid out its position with respect to packaging and labelling with respect to cannabis products.5,6 Strict packaging requirements are necessary as their wider availability raises several public health issues, not the least of which is ingestion by young children. Requirements for tamper-resistant and child-proof containers need to be in place to enhance consumer safety. To reiterate:
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 a poisoning
Prescription Drugs Containing Cannabis
The CMA addressed prescription drugs containing cannabis in a previous brief.5 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 to support claims of efficacy 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. As a result, consumers presently do not have enough information to choose appropriate products.
Prescription drugs are subject to Health Canada’s pharmaceutical regulatory approval process, based on each drug’s specific indication, dose, route of administration and target population. Health claims need to be substantiated via a strong evidentiary process. All potential prescription medications containing cannabis must meet a high standard of review for safety, efficacy and quality, equivalent to that of the approval of prescription drugs (e.g., Marinol® and Sativex®), to protect Canadians from further misleading claims.
The CMA urges caution especially around exemptions for paediatric formulations that would allow for traits that would “appeal to youth.” The CMA understands that these products, used under strict health professional supervision, should be child friendly, for example, regarding palatability, but we do not support marketing strategies that would suggest their use is recreational (e.g., producing them in candy or animal formats).
1. The CMA recommends that all cannabis health products, including those with CBD, making a health claim must be reviewed thoroughly for efficacy, as well as safety and quality, for the protection of Canadians.
2. The CMA recommends that strict packaging requirements be put in place with respect cannabis health products as their wider availability raises several public health issues, not the least of which is ingestion by young children.
3. The CMA recommends tamper-resistant and child-proof containers need to be in place to enhance consumer safety.
4. The CMA recommends that all potential prescription medications containing cannabis must meet a high standard of review for safety, efficacy and quality, equivalent to that of the approval of prescription drugs to protect Canadians from further misleading claims.
1Health Canada. Document: Consultation on Potential Market for Cannabis Health Products that would not Require Practitioner Oversight. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2019. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-potential-market-cannabis/document.html (accessed 2019 Aug 8).
2 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 Aug 8).
3 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 Aug 8).
4 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 Aug 8).
5 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 Aug 8).
6 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada Consultation on Edible Cannabis, Extracts & Topicals Ottawa: CMA; Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy14020 (accessed 2019 Aug 8).
7 Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA warns company marketing unapproved cannabidiol products with unsubstantiated claims to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid withdrawal, pain and pet anxiety. Media Release. Silver Spring, MD: FDA; 2019 Jul 23. Available: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-warns-company-marketing-unapproved-cannabidiol-products-unsubstantiated-claims-treat-cancer (accessed 2019 Aug 15).
8 Charlebois S., Music J., Sterling B. Somogyi S. Edibles and Canadian consumers’ willingness to consider recreational cannabis in food or beverage products: A second assessment. Faculty of Management: Dalhousie University; May, 2019 Available: https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/management/News/News%20%26%20Events/Edibles%20and%20Canadian%20Consumers%20English_.pdf (accessed 2019 Aug 20).
9 Allan GM. Et al. Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care. Canadian Family Physician. Feb 2018;64(2):111. Available: https://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/64/2/111.full.pdf (accessed 2019 Aug 29).
10 Health Canada. Information for Health Care Professionals. Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids) Dried or fresh plant and oil administration by ingestion or other means Psychoactive agent. Ottawa: Health Canada; October 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/information-medical-practitioners/information-health-care-professionals-cannabis-cannabinoids-eng.pdf (accessed 2019 Aug 29).
11 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: Current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2017. Available: http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2017/health-effects-of-cannabis-and-cannabinoids.aspx (accessed 2019 Aug 29).
12 Slaven M., Levine O. Cannabinoids for Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(6):e183484. Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2706491 (accessed 2019 Aug 26).
13 Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD Consumer Updates. Silver Spring, MD: FDA; 2019 July 17. Available: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/what-you-need-know-and-what-were-working-find-out-about-products-containing-cannabis-or-cannabis (accessed 2019 Aug 29).
Since 1867, the Canadian Medical Association has been the national voice of Canada’s medical profession. We work with physicians, residents and medical students on issues that matter to the profession and the health of Canadians. We advocate for policy and programs that drive meaningful change for physicians and their patients
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates this opportunity to respond to the notice as
published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health
Canada’s proposed Vaping Products Promotion Regulations “that would (1) prohibit the promotion of vaping products and vaping product-related brand elements by means of advertising that is done in a manner that can be seen or heard by young persons, including the display of vaping products at points of sale where they can be seen by young persons; and (2) require that all vaping advertising convey a health warning about the health hazards of vaping product use.”
Canada’s physicians, who see the devastating effects of tobacco use every day in their practices, have
been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public
warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest
possible measures to control its use.
The CMA has always, and will continue to support, strong, comprehensive tobacco control legislation, enacted and enforced by all levels of government. This includes electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Our approach to tobacco and vaping products is grounded in public health policy. We believe it is incumbent on governments in Canada to continue working on comprehensive, coordinated and effective tobacco control strategies, including vaping products, to achieve the goal of reducing smoking prevalence.
It is imperative that the regulations concerning the promotion of vaping products be tightened sooner rather than later. While the CMA views Health Canada’s proposed regulations as a step in the right direction, they should only be considered as the start of extensive regulatory, policy and public health work required to effectively address the harms associated with vaping.
Vaping is not without risks. Evidence continues to grow about the hazards associated with the use of e-cigarettes, especially for youth and young adults. The emergence of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the United States and to a lesser extent in Canada, illustrates the danger these products can pose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of January 7, 2020 that there were 2,602 cases of hospitalized EVALI or deaths (57 so far) reported by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). In an update published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “younger age was significantly associated with acquiring THC-containing and nicotine-containing products through informal sources.” The report concludes with this warning: “Irrespective of the ongoing investigation, e-cigarette, or
vaping, products should never be used by youths, young adults, or pregnant women.”3 In Canada, as of January 7, 2020, 15 cases of severe pulmonary illness associated with vaping have been reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) indicates that Canadians are growing more concerned about the safety of vaping as more information on the potential harms becomes available. The survey found that the number of people saying that vaping does more harm than good rose from 35% in 2018 to 62% in 2019.5 Further, 17% of parents with children under 19 said their child either vaped or had tried it; 92% of those parents considered vaping harmful.5 Significant to this discussion is the fact that 90% of respondents support “banning advertisements of vaping products in areas frequented by young people. This includes areas such as bus shelters or parks, and digital spaces like social media.”5 As public unease continues to rise, the need for further tightening of regulations becomes vital.
Unfortunately, the federal government is still behind the curve when it comes to the proliferation of vaping and the vaping industry. Health Canada will have to step up surveillance and enforcement if tightening of the regulations is to be effective.
This brief will address the planned regulations as well as discuss important issues not covered such as nicotine levels and flavours. We have expressed concerns about these topics in previous consultations and will be reiterating them here.
Promotion of Vaping Products
The CMA appreciates Health Canada’s intent to tighten the regulations but this proposal is not sufficient, and we must reiterate our long-held position that the restrictions on the promotion of all vaping products and devices be the same as those for tobacco products. , The proposed regulations provides the vaping industry with too much latitude in their promotion activities to ensure youth are protected. As we noted in our response to Health Canada’s consultation on The Impact of Vaping Products Advertising on Youth and Nonusers of Tobacco Products, the advertisements that have been permitted to this point seem to have managed to find their way to youth, even if they are not directed at them, as has been asserted.7, We recommended vaping advertisements should not be permitted in any public places, broadcast media, and in publications of any type, with no exceptions. The CMA stands by that recommendation.7
The methods used by the vaping industry in the past succeeded in attracting more and more youth and young adults and it will no doubt continue efforts to find novel approaches for promoting their products, including the use of popular social media channels. , , , Indeed, “JUUL’s™ advertising imagery in its first 6 months on the market was patently youth oriented. For the next 2 ½ years it was more muted, but the company’s advertising was widely distributed on social media channels frequented by youth, was amplified by hashtag extensions, and catalyzed by compensated influencers and affiliates.”10
The vaping industry’s efforts to circumvent marketing restrictions in other jurisdictions are evident in view of some recent developments. A US study outlines an e-cigarette marketing technique that involves the promotion of scholarships for students. The study found 21 entities (manufacturers, e-cigarette review websites, distributors) offering 40 scholarships, ranging in value from $300 to $5000 (US).13 Most of the scholarships required “an essay submission, with most listing prompts related to e-cigarettes or eliciting information about the benefits of vaping.”13 The authors suggest “that prohibitions on e-cigarette scholarships to youth are also needed, as many of these scholarships require youth under the age of 18 years (for whom use of e-cigarettes are illegal) to write positive essays about vaping.”13
The CMA reiterates, yet again, its position that all health warnings for vaping products and devices should be similar to those presently required for tobacco packages in Canada.6, The need for such cautions is important in that we still do not understand fully the effects vaping can have on the human body.
More research is needed into the potential harms of using electronic cigarettes to understand the long-term effects users may face. , , The proposed health warnings are not strong enough in light of the research and knowledge that has emerged to date about the harms caused by e-cigarettes. For example, a recent US study highlighted the potential link between e-cigarette use and depression. It found “a significant cross-sectional association between e-cigarette use and depression, which highlights the need for prospective studies analyzing the longitudinal risk of depression with e-cigarette use.”18 As the authors note, “the potential mental health consequences may have regulatory implications for novel tobacco products.”18
Further, with respect to respiratory issues, a US study found that “use of e-cigarettes appears to be an independent risk factor for respiratory disease in addition to all combustible tobacco smoking.” The authors also don’t recommend the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool because “for most smokers, using an e-cigarette is associated with lower odds of successfully quitting smoking.”19
Nicotine levels and flavours are not addressed in this consultation. However, the CMA considers these issues to be vital in the effort to protect youth and young adults from the harms associated with e-cigarettes and will therefore provide comment in effort to speed movement toward resolving these problems.
The CMA remains very concerned about the rising levels of nicotine available through the vaping process. They supply “high levels of nicotine with few of the deterrents that are inherent in other tobacco products. Traditional e-cigarette products use solutions with free-base nicotine formulations in which stronger nicotine concentrations can cause aversive user experiences.”
Hammond et al noted in their 2019 study that “JUUL® uses benzoic acid and nicotine salt technology to
deliver higher concentrations of nicotine than conventional e-cigarettes; indeed, the nicotine concentration in the standard version of JUUL® is more than 50 mg/mL, compared with typical levels of 3-24 mg/mL for other e-cigarettes.”9 The salts and flavours available to be used with these devices reduce the harshness and bitterness of the taste of the e-liquids with some of the competition delivering even higher levels of nicotine.
The CMA called on Health Canada to restrict the level of nicotine in vaping products to avoid youth (and adults) from developing a dependence.20 Health Canada set the maximum level at 66 mg/ml while a European Union (EU) directive of 2014 indicates the level should not exceed 20 mg/ml. , Nicotine, among other issues, “affects the developing brain by increasing the risk of addiction, mood disorders, lowered impulse control, and cognitive impairment. , Utilizing the EU level as an interim measure until more scientific research is available to determine an optimal level is acceptable.
On December 5, 2019, the Government of Nova Scotia became the first province or territory to announce it would institute a ban on sale of flavoured e-cigarettes and juices, as of April 1, 2020. The CMA recommends that flavours banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible; others share this sentiment.6,7, Flavours are strong factors in attracting youth, especially when coupled with assertions of lower harm. Their success in doing so is evidenced by the rise in the rates of vaping among youth.9, A recent US study found that “perceiving flavored e-cigarettes as easier to use than unflavored e-cigarettes may lead to e-cigarette use progression among youth never tobacco users. Determining the factors (including e-cigarette marketing and specific e-cigarette flavors) that lead to perceived ease of using flavored e-cigarettes would inform efforts to prevent and curb youth e-cigarette use.” The CMA recommends that flavours be banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible.
1. The CMA recommends that vaping advertisements should not be permitted in any public places, broadcast media, and in publications of any type, with no exceptions.
2. The CMA reiterates its position that all health warnings for vaping products and devices should be similar to those for tobacco packages.
3. The CMA believes that the European Union 2014 directive indicating the nicotine concentration not exceed 20 mg/ml should be adopted as an interim measure until more scientific research is available to determine an optimum level.
4. CMA recommends flavours be banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to youth as much as possible.
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).
12 Kirkham C. Citing Reuters report, health groups push tech firms to police tobacco marketing. New York: Reuters; May 22, 2109. Available: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philipmorris-ecigs-socialmedia/citing-reuters-report-health-groups-push-tech-firms-to-police-tobacco-marketing-idUSKCN1SS1FX (accessed 2019 May 22).
13 McKelvey K, Popova L, Pepper JK, Brewer NT, Halpern-Felsher. Adolescents have unfavorable opinions of adolescents who use e-cigarettes. PLoS ONE 2018;13(11): e0206352. Available: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206352 (accessed 2019 May 14).
14 Calioa D. Vaping an 'epidemic,' Ottawa high school student says. Ottawa: CBC News; November 27, 2018. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/vaping-epidemic-ottawa-high-school-student-says-1.4918672 (accessed 2019 May 14).
15 Chen-Sankey JC, Kong G, Choi K. Perceived ease of flavored e-cigarette use and ecigarette use progression among youth never tobacco users. PLoS ONE 2019;14(2): e0212353. Available: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212353 (accessed 2019 May 17).
16 Drazen JM, Morrissey S, Campion EW. The Dangerous Flavors of E-Cigarettes. N Engl J Med 2019; 380:679-680. Available: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMe1900484?articleTools=true (accessed 2019 May 17).
17 Jackler RK, Ramamurthi D. Nicotine arms race: JUUL and the high-nicotine product market Tob Control 2019;0:1–6. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30733312 (accessed 2019 May 20).
18 Reichardt EM., Guichon J. Vaping is an urgent threat to public health. Toronto: The Conversation; March 13, 2019. Available: https://theconversation.com/vaping-is-an-urgent-threat-to-public-health-112131 (accessed 2019 May 20).
19 Chen JC. et al. Flavored E-cigarette Use and Cigarette Smoking Susceptibility among Youth. Tob Regul Sci. 2017 January ; 3(1): 68–80. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30713989 (accessed 2019 May 20).
20 LaVito A. FDA outlines e-cigarette rules, tightens restrictions on fruity flavors to try to curb teen vaping. New Jersey: CNBC; March 13, 2019 Available: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/13/fda-tightens-restrictions-on-flavored-e-cigarettes-to-curb-teen-vaping.html (accessed 2019 Mar 20).
21 Ireland N. Pediatricians call for ban on flavoured vaping products — but Health Canada isn't going there. Toronto: CBC News; November 17, 2018 Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canadian-pediatricians-flavoured-vaping-second-opinion-1.4910030 (accessed 2019 May 20).
22 Huang J, Duan Z, Kwok J, et al. Vaping versus JUULing: how the extraordinary growth and marketing of JUUL transformed the US retail e-cigarette market. Tobacco Control 2019;28:146-151. Available: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/28/2/146.full.pdf (accessed 2019 May 21).
23 Barrington-Trimis JL, Leventhal AM. Adolescents’ Use of “Pod Mod” E-Cigarettes — Urgent Concerns. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:1099-1102. Available: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMp1805758?articleTools=true (accessed 2019 May 20).
24 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2016. Available: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_sgr_full_report_non-508.pdf (accessed 2019 May 20).
25 Kong G. et al. Reasons for Electronic Cigarette Experimentation and Discontinuation Among Adolescents and Young Adults. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2015 Jul;17(7):847-54. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4674436/pdf/ntu257.pdf (accessed 2019 May 21).
26 Keamy-Minor E, McQuoid J, Ling PM. Young adult perceptions of JUUL and other pod electronic cigarette devices in California: a qualitative study. BMJ Open. 2019;9:e026306. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6500190/pdf/bmjopen-2018-026306.pdf (accessed 2019 May 21).
27 Ghosh TS, Et al. Youth Vaping and Associated Risk Behaviors — A Snapshot of Colorado. N Engl J Med 2019; 380:689-690.Available: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1900830 (accessed 2019 May 21).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's notice as published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives.1
Tramadol has been marketed in Canada since 2005 and is available only by prescription.1 The CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and should be placed in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, under Schedule 1.2
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that tramadol is one of six opioids accounting for 96% of all opioid prescriptions between 2012 and 2016.3 The report noted that there was a significant increase in tramadol prescriptions and Defined Daily Doses (DDDs) in that same 2012 to 2016 timeframe that may have been due in part to a decrease in prescriptions and DDDs for codeine.
Tramadol is considered a weak opioid and is used to treat "moderate pain that has not responded to first-line treatments."4 It is regarded as having a lower rate of overdose, misuse and addiction than more powerful opioids.4
However, it is not without risks. The addition of tramadol to the CDSA, Schedule 1, is important because, as with any opioid, dependence on tramadol can occur with use over prolonged periods. According to the World Health Organization "dependence to tramadol may occur when used within the recommended dose range of tramadol but especially when used at supra-therapeutic doses."5 Physical dependence is "distinct from addiction, which includes behavioural elements and harm despite continued drug use." Maintenance of patients on opioids sometimes is only to avoid withdrawal symptoms, caused by physical dependence, as opposed to being used to treat pain.6 Tramadol must be tapered under supervision from a health professional.
In addition, tramadol's analgesic effect can be unpredictable depending on a person's genetic capacity to metabolize the drug. Success or failure will be predicated "on it being converted by CYP2D6 to an active metabolite, O-desmethyltramadol."7 If there is a CYP2D6 inhibitor present or if the person's genetic make-up is such that they do not metabolize the enzyme very well, "conversion can be blocked so that little or none of the metabolite is produced and little analgesic effect is achieved."7 These tramadol pathways may also be blocked which could lead to the drug being "present at higher concentrations for longer periods."7 As one expert has noted "when a doctor prescribes tramadol, he or she rolls the dice, not knowing whether the patient will get a bit of opioid, a lot of opioid or none at all."6
The risks associated with tramadol with respect to children are such that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended that tramadol (and codeine) should not be given to children under 12.8 Their concern stems from the potential for tramadol (and codeine) to "cause life-threatening breathing problems in children."9 The FDA also recommended that breast-feeding women not be given tramadol because of the potential harm to the child. As well, teens 12 to 18 should not be given the drug "if there is a history of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, or severe lung disease."9 Further, it warned that it should not "be given to children or adolescents as a pain medication after surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids."9
It is very important for the health and safety of Canadians that tramadol be placed on CDSA's Schedule 1. As described in the Notice of Intent for this consultation, this change will "prevent diversion of tramadol and protect Canadians from the health risks associated with unauthorized use."1 Further, pharmacists will not be able to follow verbal prescriptions and or provide refills of tramadol, and other controls outlined in the Narcotic Control Regulations within the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.10
In conclusion, the CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and carries dangers similar to its stronger counterparts. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as addictions, and as such we have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use. Therefore, as part of our advocacy, the CMA supports Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives. By doing so it will "help dispel the perception that it's somehow safer than other opioids."6
The CMA continues to urge governments to increase access to services and treatment options for addiction and pain management, as well as harm reduction.11
1 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Notice to interested parties - Proposal to add tramadol to Schedule I to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 16 152(24) Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-16/html/notice-avis-eng.html#ne2 (accessed 2018 Jun 25)
2 Young JWS, Juurlink DN. Five things to know about Tramadol. CMAJ May 2013 185(5) Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/185/8/E352.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31)
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pan-Canadian Trends in the Prescribing of Opioids, 2012 to 2016. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2017.
4 Kahan M, Mailis-Gagnon A, Wilson L, et al. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain; clinical summary for family physician. Part 1: general population. Can Fam Physician November 2011 011;57:1257-66. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/57/11/1257.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 30)
5 World Health Organization. Tramadol Update Review Report Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-sixth Meeting Geneva, 16-20 June 2014 Available: http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/quality_safety/6_1_Update.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 1)
6 Juurlink DN. Why Health Canada must reclassify tramadol as an opioid. The Globe and Mail November 27, 2017
7 Flint, A., Merali, Z., and Vaccarino, F. (Eds.). (2018). Substance use in Canada: improving quality of life: substance use and aging. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Substance-Use-and-Aging-Report-2018-en.pdf#search=all%28aging%29 (accessed 2018 Aug 1)
8 Jin J. Risks of Codeine and Tramadol in Children. JAMA 2017;318(15):1514. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.13534 Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2657378 (accessed: 2018 Aug 2)
9 United States Food and Drug Administration. Codeine and Tramadol Can Cause Breathing Problems for Children. Consumer Update April 20, 2017 Available: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm315497.htm (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
10 Minister of Justice. Narcotic Control Regulations C.R.C., c. 1041. Current to July 5, 2018. Last amended on May 20, 2018 Available: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C.R.C.,_c._1041.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
11 Canadian Medical Association. Harms Associated with Opioids and Other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs. CMA Policy, 2015. Ottawa: The Association; 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: 2018 Aug 2).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to Health Canada in response to the publication of the Notice of Intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids.1 The CMA is very concerned with the high rates of overdose deaths due to opioids2 and supports a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to address this public health crisis.3
As part of the Government of Canada's strategy, the Minister of Health's 2017 mandate letter committed to "consult with provinces, territories, and professional regulatory bodies to introduce appropriate prescribing guidelines to curb opioid misuse, ensure prescriptions are appropriately tracked in a consistent and patient-centred way, and increase transparency in the marketing and promotion of therapies."4 Health Canada is proposing to further restrict drug manufacturers' advertising of opioids and is consulting on the scope and intent of the restrictions. The Food and Drugs Act defines advertisement as "any representation by any means for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, the sale of any drug or device".5
Opioids are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. These medications have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.3 Any measures to address advertising must not restrict appropriate access. Limiting access without appropriate alternatives and careful tapering can lead to undue suffering and seeking of drugs, potentially tainted, on the illegal market.
However, of great concern, opioid dispensing levels have been shown to be strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.6,7 Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.8
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.9,10 However, there is evidence for pain relief in the short term but insufficient evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.11,12,13 There was also a concerted effort by industry to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain. While stating that the risk of addiction was less than one percent, many studies have shown that the risk varies from 0 to 50% depending on the criteria used and sub population studied.14 Marketing significantly influences the type and amount of opioids consumed.15 Substantial tension exists between the competitive pressures that manufacturers face to expand product sales and support for limited, evidence-based use of most cost-effective available alternatives.16
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.17 Important contributing factors for the increase in opioid prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with patients. Prescriptions also increased due to the availability of new, highly potent opioid drugs.18,19 Addressing advertising is only one component of the issue, and significant efforts need to be made to address issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and treatment of addiction.
Presently, advertising of opioids is prohibited to the public, and only permitted to health care professionals if the claims are consistent with the terms of market authorization by Health Canada. Pharmaceutical industry's marketing practices to health care practitioners "can take many forms of direct and indirect activities and incentives, including, for example, manufacturer-sponsored presentations at conferences, continuing education programs, advertisements in medical journals, and personal visits from sales representatives. It can also include use of promotional brochures, fees for research, consulting or speaking, reimbursement for travel and hospitality expenses to attend industry-sponsored events, and gifts of meals, equipment, and medical journals and texts."1 As well, industry has sponsored advocacy organizations dedicated to the treatment of pain and key opinion leaders.15,20 Studies have shown that marketing influences prescribing patterns.21
Initiatives to regulate advertising and the promotion of prescription drugs have come from industry, nongovernmental organizations and government. The pharmaceutical industry itself is voluntarily self-regulated in Canada through the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB), pre-clearing marketing initiatives based on a Code of Advertising.22 The CMA recommends that marketing initiatives could be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism such as PAAB.
Faced with multiple legal challenges in the U.S., some opioid manufacturers have limited marketing, however, such measures had not been taken in Canada. The federal government has a complaints-based system and hasn't been proactive in the regulation and monitoring of advertising and marketing of opioids.
In recently published regulations amending the Food and Drug Regulations,23 the Minister of Health can require companies to develop and implement risk management plans, which include the preclearance of opioid-related materials to be provided to health care professionals. Product information prepared by manufacturers, summarizing scientific evidence on effects and setting out conditions for use, as well as promotional activities are subject to regulatory approval. The authority conferred to the Minister has the objective of allowing Health Canada to "appropriately monitor, quantify, characterize, and mitigate the risks associated with post-market use" of opioids. CMA supports such actions. As Van Zee has noted in the case of the United States, "modifications of the promotion and marketing of controlled drugs by the pharmaceutical industry and an enhanced capacity of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate and monitor such promotion can have a positive impact on public health".14 This approach would confer a similar benefit for Canada in that, if effective, could contribute to unbiased, evidence-based prescribing.
There are important guidelines and standards in place, developed by physicians, to guide relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. CMA's "Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry"24 were developed as a resource tool both for physicians, medical students and residents, as well as medical organizations, to support decisions as to appropriate relationships with industry, in conjunction with CMA's Code of Ethics.25 In summary, physicians have a responsibility to ensure that their interaction with the pharmaceutical industry is in keeping with their primary obligation to their patients and duties to society, and to avoid situations of conflict of interest where possible, appropriately managing these situations when necessary.
These guidelines include principles for continuing medical education and continuing professional development (CME/CPD) and are the basis for the National Standard for Support of Accredited CPD Activities, developed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Collège des médecins du Québec. According to the Standard, "the interests of organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for the development of accredited CPD activities cannot be assumed to always be congruent with the goal of addressing the educational needs of the medical profession. Therefore, it is essential that the medical profession define and assume their responsibility for setting standards that will guide the development, delivery, and evaluation of accredited CPD activities."26 Physicians must complete CPD credits to maintain their professional license, and the accreditation bodies (such as CFPC, RCPSC) have processes in place to assure that these courses are evidence-based and free from industry bias.
In recognition of the importance of opioid prescribing, and the key role that physicians play in this field, the CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids. This funding could include unconditional contribution from the opioid manufacturers, to ensure independence. The CMA appreciates the role that Health Canada has had in funding evidence-based guidelines.27 This has been a key initiative, which sought to provide physicians with unbiased information. Ongoing funding to maintain their currency would be warranted.
The CMA supports long overdue actions related to the restriction of the marketing of opioids and looks forward to collaboration between Health Canada and the physician community.
The CMA supports Health Canada's efforts to place significant restrictions on the ability of drug manufacturers to advertise opioids to health care practitioners. Marketing initiatives should be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism.
The CMA recommends that the measures chosen to constrain advertising do not unduly restrict access to opioids for appropriate use.
The CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids, and consider unconditional funding from opioid manufacturers.
The CMA recommends that the government support keeping the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines current through ongoing funding.
The CMA recognizes that restricting advertising is only one, overdue, measure to address the opioid crisis, and recommends that issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and addiction treatment urgently be addressed.
1 Government of Canada. Notice of intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/drug-products/announcements/restrict-advertising-opioids.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
2 Public Health Agency of Canada. National report: apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada (released June 2018). Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/national-report-apparent-opioid-related-deaths-released-june-2018.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
3 Canadian Medical Association. Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
4 Trudeau J. Minister of Health mandate letter. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister; 2017 Oct 4. Available: https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-health-mandate-letter (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
5 Government of Canada. Food and Drugs Act. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 1985. Available: http://lois-laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/index.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
6 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2013;22(4):438-42.
7 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q 2011;14(1):22-4.
8 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend 2004;73(2):199-207.
9 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician 2014;17(1):E1-10.
10 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
11 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2014;83:1277-84.
12 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: Findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain 2009;10:147-59.
13 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;(1):CD006605.
14 Van Zee A. The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health 2009;99:221-27.
15 Hamunen K, Paakkari P, Kalso E. Trends in opioid consumption in the Nordic countries 2002-2006. Eur J Pain 2009;13:954-962.
16 Alves TL, Lexchin J, Mintzes B. Medicines information and the regulation of the promotion of pharmaceuticals. Sci Eng Ethics 2018:1-26.
17 Canadian Medical Association. Optimal prescribing. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
18 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health 2008;99(3):182-4.
19 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.
20 Dyer O. OxyContin maker stops marketing opioids, as report details payments to advocacy groups. BMJ 2018;360:k791.
21 Katz D, Caplan AL, Merz JF. All gifts large and small: toward an understanding of the ethics of pharmaceutical industry gift-giving. Am J Bioethics 2003;3(3):39-46.
22 Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board. PAAB Code. Ottawa: PAAB; 2018. Available: http://code.paab.ca/ (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
23 Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Opioids), SOR/2018-77. Canada Gazette, Part II 2018 May 2;152(9). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-05-02/html/sor-dors77-eng.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
24 Canadian Medical Association. Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
25 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (Update 2004). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Code_of_ethics_of_the_Canadian_Medical_Association_Update_2004_PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
26 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National standard for support of accredited CPD activities. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.royalcollege.ca/rcsite/cpd/providers/tools-resources-accredited-cpd-providers/national-standard-accredited-cpd-activities-e (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
27 Busse JW, Craigie S, Juurlink DN, et al. Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain. CMAJ 2017;189:E659-66.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates this opportunity to respond to Health Canada’s consultation on Potential Measures to Reduce the Impact of Vaping Products Advertising on Youth and Non-users of Tobacco Products under the authority of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA).
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.
This brief will address the two main issues outlined in the Notice of Intent: the placement of advertising and health warnings.
Placement of Advertising
The CMA’s 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.
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. This would include the same approach to plain and standardized packaging regulations under consideration for tobacco products.2,
The CMA is concerned that the proposed regulations leave too wide an opening for vaping manufacturers to promote their products, especially to youth. It is from a public health perspective that the CMA is calling for all vaping advertising to be strictly limited. The CMA supports the provisions proposed for point-of-sale information. The material offered will need to have the health warnings included in this Notice of Intent.
However, the sections of the proposed regulations most problematic to the CMA are those encompassing public places, broadcast media, and the publications areas. Vaping advertisements should not be permitted at all in any of these spaces, with no exceptions.2 The advertisements permitted currently seem to have managed to find their way to youth, even if they are not directed at them, as claimed. A report published by the World Health Organization and the US National Cancer Institute indicated that websites dedicated to retailing e-cigarettes “contain themes that may appeal to young people, including images or claims of modernity, enhanced social status or social activity, romance, and the use of e-cigarettes by celebrities.” Social media provides an easy means of promoting vaping products and techniques, especially to youth.21 A US study found that the landscape is “being dominated by pro-vaping messages disseminated by the vaping industry and vaping proponents, whereas the uncertainty surrounding e-cigarette regulation expressed within the public health field appears not to be reflected in ongoing social media dialogues.” The authors recommended that “real-time monitoring and surveillance of how these devices are discussed, promoted, and used on social media is necessary in conjunction with evidence published in academic journals.”6
The need to address the issue of advertising around vaping is growing more urgent. Vaping is becoming more popular and more attractive to Canadian youth, especially with the arrival of more high-tech versions of electronic cigarettes such as the pod-based JUUL™. , A similar trend has been observed in the United States where a recent study indicated that “use by adolescents and young adults of newer types of e-cigarettes such as pod-based systems is increasing rapidly.”
JUUL™ entered the US market in 2015 “with a novel chemistry (nicotine salts) enabling higher concentrations in a limited aerosol plume.” JUUL’s™ nicotine levels contained 5% nicotine salt solution consisting of 59 mg/mL in 0.7 mL pods. Some of JUUL’s™ competition have pods containing even higher levels (6% and 7%).10 The nicotine salts are “less harsh and less bitter, making e-liquids more palatable despite higher nicotine levels.”10 It has been noted by researchers that “among adolescents and young adults who use them, pod-based e-cigarettes are synonymous with the brand-name JUUL™ and use is termed “juuling,” whereas “vaping” has typically been used by youths to refer to using all other types of e-cigarettes.”9
The addition of a wide variety of flavours available in the pods makes them taste more palatable and less like smoking tobacco.10, The purpose in doing so is because “smoking is not a natural behavior, like eating or drinking, the manufacturers of these devices commonly add flavoring to the liquid from which the nicotine aerosol is generated, to make the initial exposures more pleasurable. The flavoring enhances the appeal to first-time users — especially teenagers.” The CMA and other expert groups would prefer to see flavours banned to reduce the attractiveness of vaping as much as possible.2, It is very important that the pod-based systems are cited specifically to ensure they are included under the new advertising regulations for all vaping products.
Youth vaping has reached the point where the US Food and Drug Administration referred to it as an “epidemic,” calling it “one of the biggest public health challenges currently facing the FDA.” Durham Region Health Department, using data from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey conducted by CAMH and administered by the Institute for Social Research, York University, noted that 17% of high school students in that region had used an electronic cigarette in the past year (2016-17), numbers that are similar for the rest of Ontario. In the United States, a survey indicated that, among high school students, “current e-cigarette use increased from 1.5% (220,000 students) in 2011 to 20.8% (3.05 million students) in 2018;” between 2017 and 2018 alone it rose 78% (from 11.7% to 20.8%).
Concern is growing across Canada among educators seeing a rise in the number of youths turning to vaping. , , The problem has reached the point where a school official resorted to removing the doors from the washrooms to “crack down” on vaping in the school. Youth themselves are aware of the increasing problem; many are turning to YouTube to learn “vape tricks” such as making smoke rings. Some refer to the practice of vaping as “the nic;” as a University of Ottawa student noted “They call it getting light-headed. Sometimes it's cool.”
As the Canadian Paediatric Society noted in 2015, efforts to “denormalize tobacco smoking in society and historic reductions in tobacco consumption may be undermined by this new ‘gateway’ product to nicotine dependency.” , Decades of effort to reduce the incidence of smoking are in danger of being reversed. A growing body of evidence indicates that vaping can be considered the prime suspect. A Canadian study provides “strong evidence” that use of electronic cigarettes among youth is leading them to the consumption of combustible tobacco products. In a similar vein, a “large nationally representative study of US youths supports the view that e-cigarettes represent a catalyst for cigarette initiation among youths.” Granting vaping manufacturers scope to advertise will likely exacerbate this problem.
The CMA reiterates its position that health warnings for vaping should be like those being considered for tobacco packages.2,3 We support the proposed warning labels being placed on all vaping products. The need for such warnings is important as there is still much that is not known about the effects vaping can have on the human body.
Substances that have been identified in e-cigarette liquids and aerosols include “nicotine, solvent carriers (PG and glycerol), tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), aldehydes, metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phenolic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), flavorings, tobacco alkaloids, and drugs.” Researchers have noted that there is a “striking diversity of the flavorings in e-cigarette liquids, (and that) the effects on health of the aerosol constituents produced by these flavorings are unknown.”
A US study found “evidence that using combusted tobacco cigarettes alone or in combination with e-cigarettes is associated with higher concentrations of potentially harmful tobacco constituents in comparison with using e-cigarettes alone.” Some researchers have found that there is “significant potential for serious lung toxicity from e-cig(arette) use.” ,
Another recent US study indicates that “adults who report puffing e-cigarettes, or vaping, are significantly more likely to have a heart attack, coronary artery disease and depression compared with those who don’t use them or any tobacco products.” Further, it was found that “compared with nonusers, e-cigarette users were 56 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 30 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.”32
The need for parents to be educated on the impact of vaping on children is also very important. A study examining how smoke-free and vape-free home and car policies vary for parents who are dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, who only smoke cigarettes, or who only use e-cigarettes demonstrated that these parents may perceive e-cigarette aerosol as safe for children. It noted that “dual users were less likely than cigarette-only smokers to report various child-protective measures inside homes and cars.”33
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 that vaping advertisements should not be permitted in any public places, broadcast media, and in publications of any type, with no exceptions.
3. The CMA supports the provisions proposed in this Notice of Intent for point-of-sale information. This should include health warnings.
4. The CMA reiterates its position that health warnings for vaping should be like those being considered for tobacco packages. We support the proposed warning labels being placed on all vaping products.
5. The CMA recommends more research into the health effects of vaping as well as on the components of the vaping liquids.
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