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).
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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.
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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).
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Standardized Appearance). Ottawa: CMA; 2018. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy13930 (accessed 2019 Feb 05).
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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).
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On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) I would like to respond to Health Canada’s papers, released on October 7, 2005, “Developing a Drug Supply Network and an Export Restriction Scheme” and “Requiring a Patient-Practitioner Relationship as a Condition of Sale of Prescription Drugs in Canada,” which invite discussion on the Minister of Health’s June 29, 2005 proposals to control cross-border pharmacy and ensure that Canadians have a continued supply of prescription drugs.
The CMA agrees that Canadians must have a supply of drugs adequate to meet their needs. Currently the most serious threat to this supply appears to be the legislative proposals, currently before the United States Congress, that would allow Americans to purchase Canadian drugs in bulk. Proactive measures to protect our drug supplies are warranted to guard against this threat.
In summary, our response to the Minister’s three proposals is as follows:
* Supply monitoring network: We support supply monitoring as a necessary activity.
* Export restrictions: We believe that all Canadian drugs should be subject to export restriction, and the Government of Canada should grant itself the power to enact bans on export as needed.
* Requiring a patient-physician relationship: We do not believe this proposal can be enforced, or that it will contribute materially to securing an adequate drug supply for Canada. We recommend that Health Canada instead support the activities of medical and pharmacy regulatory authorities in ensuring that prescribing behaviour is appropriate.
Our detailed comments on the proposals are below.
1) Drug supply monitoring system
The CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive strategy and an adequately resourced system for monitoring domestic drug supply. Canada needs such a system to identify shortages and respond quickly to remedy them, and to ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are founded on accurate and reliable knowledge. We recommend that more careful consideration be given to the most effective design and functioning for a supply-monitoring network. It is our understanding that manufacturers and distributors currently monitor supply of their own products. Ideally, a mechanism should be found to unite these individual activities into a robust and effective network without creating a costly parallel effort. Specific comments follow:
* 2.1 Gathering Drug Shortage Information: Voluntary reporting is a preferred approach. In designing a voluntary scheme, it should be taken into account that soliciting reports from a wide variety of players, including the public, may result in a flood of anecdotal, poorly documented reports that will require expert analysis to verify and put into context. Regardless of who is solicited for shortage reports, the reporting process should be made as clear, simple and user-friendly as possible, and all stakeholders who might be in a position to make reports should be made aware of its existence.
* 2.2 Assessment and Verification: We agree that a baseline of drug inventory data is required, as are benchmarks for what constitutes an appropriate drug supply for Canada. These should be established as a first step, before the implementation of a voluntary reporting scheme.
* 2.3 Communication of Information: While physicians may seldom be in a position to report drug shortages, it is essential that they be informed at once when a shortage exists, and how long it is expected to last. Guidance for physicians on measures they might take while the shortage lasts (for example, other drugs they might prescribe as substitutes) is highly desirable. Medical associations could help Health Canada communicate this information to their members.
The paper makes reference to Health Canada’s preference for collaboration in this endeavour “without assuming responsibility for becoming the primary source of information for Canadians on drug shortages or for resolving all reported drug shortages.” This is not appropriate. Leadership responsibilities and public expectations preclude the Minister from shirking responsibility for these functions. Accountability for such a complex network must be vested in one authority, i.e. Health Canada.
* 2.4 Response measures: Though the paper lists response capacity as an element of drug supply monitoring, it does not contain practical suggestions for responding in the event of a shortage. This is a crucial element and needs to be developed. There is no point in monitoring supply without a plan for managing shortages.
2) Export Restriction
CMA supports this proposal. The power to restrict export of drugs offers Canada its best chance of protection should the U.S. legalize bulk purchasing. This power should be strong and far-reaching. Serious consideration should be given to the June 2005 motion from the House Standing Committee on Health motion to ban all bulk exports of prescription drugs. Specific comments follow:
* 3.4.2 Drug products deemed necessary for human health: The discussion paper proposes to restrict export only under certain circumstances, e.g. if the drug is deemed necessary to human health, and to establish criteria to determine whether a drug meets this condition. All prescription drugs are necessary for human health; certainly those who are taking them consider them so. For equity’s sake - and also because establishing and abiding by criteria may prove impossible - we believe every prescription drug in Canada should be considered a candidate for export restriction.
* 3.4.3 Implications for patient care: We acknowledge that in many cases, other effective therapies can be substituted for drugs in short supply. Many physicians will make these substitutions as needed; but they must first be made aware of the shortages. Physicians must be advised of available alternatives if an unavoidable shortage exists; however, we caution that the existence of alternatives should not be used as justification for not taking action if a drug is in shortage. The final decision as to the most appropriate available therapy should remain a matter to be determined by the patient and physician and consultation.
3) Requiring a Patient-Practitioner Relationship
The Minister has expressed his desire to ensure that physicians maintain high ethical and professional prescribing standards. The CMA shares this desire. As discussed in the attached CMA Statement on Internet Prescribing (Appendix I), we hold that prescriptions should be written in the context of an appropriate patient-physician relationship. However, we do not accept that the proposed option of requiring an established patient-practitioner relationship for every prescription issued in Canada will have a meaningful effect on ensuring adequate drug supply, for the following reasons:
* The proposal does not target the real problem. Most current drug shortages are caused by raw material shortages, inventory management disruptions, unexpected spikes in demand, and other conditions that have nothing to do with the clinical encounter. More important, targeting the patient-practitioner relationship will not protect Canadians from the impact of U.S. bulk purchasing should legislation pass Congress.
* Prescribing outside the context of the patient-physician relationship is already subject to sanction by medical regulatory authorities. The vast majorities of Canada’s physicians conduct themselves ethically and only prescribe for patients in the context of a professional relationship. Those who do not, contravene both the CMA’s policy and the standards of practice for provincial/territorial regulatory Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. These regulatory authorities, and the long and effective tradition of professional self-regulation they represent, should be respected and supported.
* The proposal is burdensome and will be difficult to enforce. The proposal places the onus for evaluating the patient-practitioner relationship on pharmacists. While pharmacists are required, as part of their professional responsibility, to ensure that a prescription has been written by a physician licensed to practice in that jurisdiction, they are not customarily familiar with the details of the interaction leading up to the prescription. Requiring them to formally screen for this will impose a heavy administrative burden, and will compromise patient confidentiality.
In addition, compliance monitoring by Health Canada will be complex, if feasible at all. For example, despite the Minister’s recent comment that prescriptions “can only be signed by a medical practitioner who actually sees and treats the patient in question”, it is generally accepted that perfectly legitimate prescribing can take place without a face-to-face encounter (e.g. through telemedicine) or an “ongoing” patient-physician relationship (e.g. in an emergency). While it is easy to detect flagrant infractions (such as a hundred prescriptions a day written for American patients by the same Canadian doctor) it will be much harder to precisely identify the boundary between what is legitimate prescribing behaviour and what is not. Many provincial regulatory authorities have already developed definitions of the patient-physician relationship, which Health Canada includes in the discussion document. It is unlikely that Health Canada will be able to improve on them.
* Determining an appropriate relationship may be more appropriately a provincial or territorial responsibility. The patient-physician interaction, like other scope-of-practice issues, is regulated at the provincial level. We do not believe the cross-border prescribing problem justifies Health Canada’s overarching federal-level intervention.
In conclusion, we support further exploration of the supply-monitoring and export-restriction options, and believe that existing medical and pharmaceutical regulatory authorities should be respected and supported in enforcing appropriate prescribing behaviour.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on your proposals. We look forward to further opportunities for input during the development of legislation.
Briane Scharfstein, MD, CCFP, MBA
Associate Secretary General, Professional Affairs
cc: Ms. Meena Ballantyne, Director General, Health Care Strategies and Policy Directorate,
CMA Provincial/Territorial Divisional CEO’s