Less than a week after B.C. restricted the sale of flavoured “nicotine pouches” in a bid to keep them away from kids, the federal government has confirmed its own action on the oral pouch products is coming soon.
Federal Health Minister Mark Holland said Monday the details of that announcement will be released “in the coming days.” He credited B.C. for its leadership on the products, which are new to the Canadian market.
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that these products be moved behind counter,” Holland said at an unrelated funding announcement in Vancouver.
“What we don’t want to see happen is frankly what with saw with vaping, where we had a whole new cohort of young people becoming addicted to nicotine, who weren’t smokers, and were using this as a new delivery mechanism for nicotine.”
Last week, B.C. introduced regulations that put all buccal nicotine pouch products behind the counter at pharmacies. While no prescription is required to access them, it means they’re no longer easily accessible on shelves at convenience stores, gas stations and other locations where tobacco products are sold within the province.
The products, which contain no tobacco, are approved by Health Canada and are currently sold without advertising restrictions in convenience stores elsewhere across the country.
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Last November, Holland vowed to close the regulatory “loophole” allowing that, stating he felt “duped” into believing the pouches would be marketed purely as a smoking cessation tool.
“It would seem that their intention is to addict new young people to nicotine, which is disgusting,” Holland said at the time, referencing some of the pouches’ flavours, without mentioning a specific company.
The promise followed a call from physicians at Smoke-Free Canada to immediately suspend the nicotine pouches “until measures can be put in place to protect children in the nicotine market.”
One example of a buccal nicotine pouch is Zonnic, whose colourful packages offer pouches in flavours including berry frost, chill mint and tropic breeze.
On its website, the company bills the product as a “new nicotine replacement therapy” meant to help people quit smoking, but states that it isn’t intended for use by those under 18.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, the pouches can contain up to four milligrams of nicotine, the rough equivalent of the nicotine absorbed from three to four cigarettes.
The company that makes Zonnic, Imperial Tobacco, has alleged that Holland defamed it with his November comments, calling him “misinformed” about the “nicotine replacement therapy” whose safety and efficacy are proven.
On the social media platform X, Eby posted Monday that since B.C.’s announcement, Imperial Tobacco will no longer sell Zonnic online in B.C. Last week, he called the marketing of their products “irresponsible.”
Several B.C. schools have already reported a troubling increase in their use among students, Eby added.
“The tobacco industry is wily. They’re looking for opportunities to addict people to nicotine and that has devastating public health implications,” Holland said Monday.
“So in the coming days, we’re going to be ready to announce our action federally and what we’re going to be doing.”
The B.C. Ministry of Health’s website states that nicotine dependence can result in withdrawal and symptoms including headaches, shakes, dizziness and feelings of anxiety or depression. The substance also affects memory and concentration, can alter brain development and cause cognitive and behavioural issues in youth.
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