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Canadian tobacco exec pushes back against vaping health concerns

A warning from Interior Health about the unknown health risks of vaping is getting a partial rebuke

A warning from Interior Health about the unknown health risks of vaping as an alternative to smoking cigarettes has drawn a partial rebuke from a tobacco company executive.

Sebastien Charbonneau, director of government affairs with Imperial Tobacco based out of Montreal, said based on current research knowledge, vaping is a proven less harmful alternative to satisfying your nicotine fit without lighting up a cigarette.

He cited studies done in England and by Health Canada supporting that position, recognizing that vaping or e-cigarettes can play a role in the tobacco harm reduction goals shared by many countries, including Canada.

Charbonneau was responding to comments from the Interior Health tobacco reduction coordinator, saying the health authority has concerns about exposure to vaping for adults and young people, and noting vaping does not have provincial approval as a cessation method to quit smoking.

“There is a general understanding that the combustion factor, generating the smoke that is generated by a tobacco cigarette, is far more harmful than inhaling a vapour,” Charbonneau countered.

He acknowledged, however, that because the e-cigarette products are relatively new, there is a lack of long-term research to back up initial vaping safety study conclusions on both sides of the debate.

Related: E-cigarette health hazards remain unknown

“The health hazards over a longer time period remain unknown, that is for sure as these are new products,” Charbonneau said. “But that being said, there is quite a bit of credible research out there to indicate vaping is less harmful to your health than smoking.”

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution, which may or may not include nicotine, into a vapour that is inhaled, or “vaped,” by the user.

The devices have grown in popularity on the basis of the belief they present fewer health risks that tobacco cigarettes and offer a path to eventually quit smoking.

The concern about e-cigarettes is the toxins in the variety of vaping juices in the marketplace, many with added food flavourings, that may create other health hazards not yet fully understood.

Interior Health has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid, the same position that has been adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To date, testing the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation has provided limited research evidence to change that policy in North America.

Charbonneau says Imperial Tobacco, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British American Tobacco, the largest publicly traded tobacco company in the world, is part of a $2.5 billion global industry research legacy effort to find less risky product alternatives to smoking.

Related: Ottawa ushers in new rules for e-cigarettes

“Our purpose is to offer consumers choice. For adults, if they choose to smoke we provide that product, but for people looking for less risky alternatives, we feel vaping and other related products meet that demand. Ultimately, we leave it up to consumers to make the decisions that they feel are best for them,” Charbonneau said.

“The zero risk approach would be to quit smoking altogether, but for many people that is not an option so we want to offer them other less harmful choices.”

He said Imperial Tobacco is supportive of marketing restrictions imposed by the federal government about marketing vaping products to youth, product content labelling,and the need to ensure vaping juice containers are child-proof secure like any prescription bottle.

“We fully agree vapour products should only be consumed by adults,” he said.

Medical News Today recent reported that a U.S. study found that teenagers who had used e-cigarettes had three times the amount of toxic compounds in their bodies compared to teenagers who had never vaped, while another scientific study suggests that the heating coils in e-cigarettes may be the source of those high toxic level compounds rather than the vaping solutions themselves.

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