Seeing through the smoke

For many people, there’s nothing like that buzz first thing in the morning of drawing off a freshly-lit cigarette while enjoying that first cup of coffee.

For many people, there’s nothing like that buzz first thing in the morning of drawing off a freshly-lit cigarette while enjoying that first cup of coffee.

But it can be a deadly ritual.

Inhale and exhale and you have exposed yourself to upwards of 4,000 harmful chemicals — at least 70 are known to cause cancer — in a single puff.

Endless educational campaigns, non-smoking laws and bylaws and dire warnings printed on the pack of smokes alert users, again and again, to the dangers of smoking.

But despite the obvious, smokers keep flicking that lighter, because they’re addicted to nicotine.

But the real devils inside a pack of smokes are the 70 known cancer-causing carcinogens. And despite the millions upon millions of dollars spent on studying the harmful effects of tobacco, studies tend not to examine the long-term effects of nicotine addiction.

Kicking the habit is a never-ending battle for some. But is the federal government doing everything it can to help smokers?

Not based on the delays related to the e-cigarette. The e-cigarette is a small cigarette-shaped canister used to simulate the sensation of smoking. Batteries in the canister heat up fluid-filled cartridges, then give off, after a puff, a vapour. They come in many flavours — but all are void of nicotine.

Nicotine canisters are illegal in Canada for the e-smoke, but can be purchased in the U.S. over the Internet, and that is causing a flap among health authorities.

So how is that we have legalized nicotine-laced gum, patches and a mouth spray containing concentrated nicotine in liquid form to help kick the habit?

And why has Health Canada not acted on this issue? After all, these devices have been around for 10 years and are increasing in popularity.

The New Brunswick Lung Association’s Barbara Walls points out that one ingredient used in a vapour-only cigarette is propylene glycol, which may cause liver and kidney damage. But the same ingredient is found in toothpaste and deodorant. And a single ingredient pales compared to all the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.

Anti-smoking advocate David Sweanor believes tobacco-free e-cigarettes should be encouraged as an alternative to the real stuff. “Using electronic cigarettes, using smokeless tobacco, anything that you can get away from the smoke, is going to greatly reduce your risk of death. Cigarettes are an incredibly deadly delivery system,” said Sweanor, a former longtime legal counsel for the Non-Smoker Rights Association.

David Hammond, a health educator at the University of Waterloo, told Canadian Press: “These (e-smokes) are now becoming a mainstream product” that will soon pose significant challenges for tobacco control advocates, the public health community and government regulatory bodies. “It’s something that whether public health advocates want to deal with it or not, they have to deal with it.”

Hammond said he believes “the five million smokers in Canada deserve to receive more support when they’re trying to quit, as most of them are. It is a beast for many people to quit smoking and this product could potentially help a fair number of them.”

Surely the delay in legalizing these devices is not economic, although the suspicious among us would point to the windfall that governments now receive from smokers.

According to the Physicians For A Smoke-Free Canada, tax revenue from tobacco sales in 2011-2012 totalled $7.4 billion. In Alberta, it was $896 million. Alberta Health Services reports that $4.4 billion is spent each year on health care for smoking-related illnesses in Canada. In Alberta, it’s about $470 million.

In other words, the federal government is almost $4 billion ahead in tobacco taxes. The provincial government is up about $426 million.

It should never be about money, of course. It should be about quality of life, and the length of life, enjoyed by all Canadians.

And we should be giving smokers a fighting chance to enjoy the same quality of life as every other Canadian.

That means allowing the use of nicotine in e-cigarettes.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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