Ontario's Liberal government is attempting to sneak through legislation that will lead to death and disease, destroy small businesses, ignore the rights of consumers and protect the cigarette business. It is time to put complacency aside and scream.
I proudly own a vape shop. I get called a lot of things as a strong-minded woman willing to speak my mind in a misunderstood industry. But one thing that I hate being called is "vaping enthusiast." Seriously, folks? It's no longer a fad. It's a growing industry that contributes to economic growth in our communities through an estimated 1,000 small businesses. According to the Canadian Vaping Association, these small businesses support more than 900,000 Ontarians who current use vapour products — all over the age of 19 — as a means to quit smoking cigarettes.
When is the last time you saw a headline like "Methadone Enthusiasts Fight to have Access to Clinics"? You've never seen it, because as a society we empathize with the addiction of drug addicts. It's a mental illness, right? We empathize with those who are addicted to hard drugs or prescription pills. We accept that what they are trying to overcome is often bigger than them, and we respect and (in the case of most governments) we supply and pay for their choice of harm reduction. Before someone rants about nicotine use being somehow different, consider that experts find smoking to be at least as addictive as heroin or cocaine. The goal is reducing risk for anyone, regardless of the cause or nature of their risks.
Vaping... should no more be treated like cigarettes than a vaccine should be treated like the disease it seeks to protect against.
This is not about whether people should be vaping. It is a matter of empowering people to choose a less harmful way of satisfying their addiction. I am here to defend that position that that vaping is not smoking, and should no more be treated like cigarettes than a vaccine should be treated like the disease it seeks to protect against.
Since I opened my vape shop, every letter I write, every protest I organize, every interview I give, the message is the same: regulate vaping as a far less hazardous alternative to cigarettes, rather than as if it was on par with smoking cigarettes. Trying to force fit a new industry and painting it with the same brush as deadly cigarette smoking means we will take away choice for a healthier alternative.
I hate to break this news to the folks that judge smokers as sinners needing to repent, but the truth is quitting smoking is hard — impossible for many, even. For many people an abstinence-only doctrine on nicotine is a death sentence, and I know because I meet these people every day. Indeed, I was one of them. Nicotine dependence is not something that you should be flippant about and make remarks like "why don't you just quit?" Would you say that to someone suffering from any other addiction that kills 100 Canadians a day?
Currently, our Ontario politicians are scrambling to figure what to do with "the vapers." Their only solution, embodied in Bill 174, is to try to rush an abstinence-only agenda through the legislature without any significant public hearings, or a review of the science or human rights issues that should inform policy making.
As a group, vapers can make a lot of noise. Protests have been held outside of MPP's offices. Over 9,000 letters have been sent to our provincial politicians. But Liberal MPPs across this province have been given scripting that says, just as we have long heard from other abstinence-only campaigners, "we are doing it to save the children" and using a biased selection of science, while ignoring the recommendations of experts such as the U.K.'s prestigious Royal College of Physicians.
Please! How little they think of us; assuming we haven't read the science when it is our lives that are on the line. And we have also followed Dr. David Hammond of the University of Waterloo in discussing research on vaping and teenagers. In a recent Global Television story, he was quoted as saying:
"A lot of what we're seeing in our study and a lot of other studies out there is a simple fact, and that is the kids who do risky things, the ones that are more likely to try e-cigarettes are also more likely to try smoking, and guess what? They're also more likely to try alcohol and marijuana. It's all to do with the fact that kids who are susceptible are going to try different things."
Now, as a parent, which would you rather your child try? Long-term vaping, which is shown to be 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes and is available without nicotine, or smoking?
We all care about young people. But feigned concern about them should not give governments the right to enact policies that will almost certainly lead to the premature deaths of so many of their parents and grandparents.
The government of Ontario should look to the history of dealing with AIDS, and of auto and workplace safety, and of alcohol prohibition. Policy should be based on facts, not moralism, and should seek to empower rather than punish. The same "nothing about us without us" ethos that was so important in the change in government policies with respect to those at risk of AIDS should be adopted when dealing with policies aimed at dealing with the carnage caused by cigarettes.
It's time. It's Ontario. We can do better.
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