Time to view e-cigarettes as a harm-reduction, not health risk: prof

University of Ottawa professor says Health Canada is moving the wrong way on vaping

By Haley Ritchie


Health Canada is wary of e-cigarettes and the City of Ottawa is banning them where they can, but one Ottawa smoking researcher says it’s the wrong move.

“My goal is to reduce death and disease. The problem is smoke, not the nicotine. If we can give people nicotine without the smoke we largely solve the health problem,” said David Sweanor, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa.

Sweanor has worked in the tobacco control field since the 1980s and views e-cigarettes as an evolution in technology that could help addicts.

But not everyone agrees with him.

Health Canada has been slow to regulate e-cigarettes. In 2009 the organization advised Canadians to not use electronic cigarettes and banned the sale and import of products containing nicotine.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive and toxic substance, and the inhalation of propylene glycol is a known irritant,” reads a release from the organization.

Despite the official ban, products are still widely available in Ottawa and the rest of the country.

Sweanor wants public health officials to approach e-cigarettes as a harm-reduction method instead of cataloguing vaping as an equally dangerous health risk.

“There’s a lot of people who have an abstinence-only moralistic view,” he said. “They see smoking and smokers as sin and sinners. It’s very much like the war on drugs or trying to deal with teenage sexuality by saying no sex outside of marriage.

“An abstinence only view kills people instead of saves people,” he said. “Any barrier in the way of people using a less hazardous product has to be firmly based on science and human rights.”


3 responses to “Time to view e-cigarettes as a harm-reduction, not health risk: prof

  1. This makes teaching about vaping as harm reduction very difficult. So many of my students say they are going to start smoking again when they leave jail and I imagine if there weren’t so much misinformation being spread about vaping, they might consider it. The majority of them think it is more harmful than smoking and thus are unwilling to try it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I applaud your efforts to convey the principles of harm reduction to your students. It isn’t easy counteracting the fear-mongering misinformation which often dominates the discussion. While there’s certain interests who benefit from keeping the status quo and suppressing harm reduction efforts, there’s many who sincerely believe in the efficacy of the drug war/abstinence-only approach despite decades of failure and mounting evidence disproving their claims. Such true believers become so attached to their ideology they’re unable to see the harm they cause to those they’re trying to help.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I think harm reduction can be steps towards abstainance or a worthy goal unto itself. I chose to abstain ultimately, but wouldn’t have got there without harm reduction. I also like that I can vape nicotine-free when I get the urge to ‘smoke’.

        Liked by 2 people

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