With legal weed sales starting in Canada, MPs agree that the price should remain close to, or lower than, street prices. This has significant players wondering why this isn’t the case with nicotine products
It’s widely agreed upon by members of parliament and public health officials in Canada that when weed becomes legal for sale later this year, the prices should not exceed what you can currently find on the street. The reasoning for this is obvious, wanting to limit possible reasons for consumers to continue to support untaxed, black market sales. With that being the case, many are now wondering why the same is not the case for another widely used drug, nicotine. In fact, even the head of Imperial Tobacco Canada agreed with this stance late last year.
Bill Blair, who’s the MP in charge of the weed legalization, says that most provinces agree on the idea of pricing marijuana at lower costs than you could find on the street. He says this encourages more people to get their product from federally recognized and taxed vendors. Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Jorge Araya says that this logic should then also apply to the sale of nicotine products if the goal is to get more users to buy from licensed retailers instead of untaxed street operations. He openly acknowledged they are not seeking a drop in current taxed on combustible cigarettes though, but rather seeking reasonable regulation on e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products.
Imperial Tobacco Canada’s Stance
In Imperial Tobacco’s eyes, along with much of the rest of Big Tobacco companies, vaping and heat-not-burn products represent the future of their industry. These devices, which Jorge Araya called, “less-risky” during his press conference, have often been misleadingly equated with much more dangerous combustible cigarettes. He went on to lament the taxes placed on traditional cigarettes, but was sure to be clear that their aim is not to lower these taxes, which he says “pay for the externalities and health impacts that we create.” Instead, he wants to keep these taxes where they are while keeping taxes on vaping products at a competitive level, to discourage black market sales.
According to Araya, around 70% of the cost of a pack of cigarettes in Canada is just from taxes. This high rate of taxing has an estimated 25% of cigarette sales in Canada happening outside of the taxable economy, accounting for billions of lost dollars every year. He fears that if the same level of taxes is placed on e-cigarettes, then an even higher number of users will turn to the unregulated market for their supplies. Currently, Bill S-5, which would officially legalize nicotine e-liquids in the country is being debated in the Senate. Imperial Tobacco is on board with this move and is hoping to influence the direction of deliberations.
Best Path Forward
Regardless of the outcome of Bill S-5, the administration tasked with authorizing the sale of vaping products is Health Canada. That is of course unless they choose to not advertise as a safer alternative to smoking with medicinal purposes. But since vaping is often seen as and used as a smoking cessation device, this would likely allow Health Canada to continue to be the gatekeeper for vaping across the country. Understanding this, companies like Imperial Tobacco are hoping to sit down with the government to decide together the best path forward. What they hope to accomplish is regulations that are profitable for the state, but also sustainable for the industry as well.
Not everyone is on board with this proposal though, as some anti-tobacco groups have blasted the comparison of weed and nicotine vaping. They reason that since pot has never been shown to kill people, it’s much more worthy of being fairly taxed than something that has killed millions of people like tobacco. The trouble is that nicotine is not what kills you. Most doctors agree that nicotine alone is relatively innocuous, most similar in effect to caffeine. Instead, it’s the countless other substances found in cigarette smoke doing almost all of the long-term damage. It’s precisely these substances that vaping was created to eliminate without having to give up the nicotine or psychological cues that go along with smoking.
The argument of anti-tobacco lobbyists in Canada is emblematic of one of the most significant problems facing vaping as a whole. That is the total misunderstanding and subsequent misrepresentation of the dangers and uses of vaping products. The idea that vaping should be harshly regulated merely because tobacco has directly lead to countless deaths is misguided and detrimental to the same people they’re claiming to help. Vaping is not smoking, and their risks are not synonymous.
If taxes on weed are to be kept low to help foster their legal sale, then the same should be true for vaping, which has also never been shown to lead to any death. The anti-tobacco groups who seek to equate vaping with smoking are actually giving a distinct advantage to Big Tobacco by helping the general public see the two products as virtually the same. But if you genuinely care about saving lives from smoking, then vaping should be supported as one of the best tools we have at our disposal.
Do you think it’s wrong for vaping to be taxed like combustible cigarettes? Do you think that increased taxes create an advantage for black market vendors? How can we reconcile the need for regulation with the fact that vaping and smoking are not one in the same? Let us know what you think in the comments.