Health Canada and its provincial counterpart in Quebec are investigating a widely disseminated Imperial Tobacco advertisement on vaping to see whether it violates advertising laws.
The ad in question, which ran on several media platforms, warns of an “epidemic of disinformation” and of “hypocrisy” surrounding vaping. It was launched by Imperial Tobacco, which sells Vype vaping products through its parent company, British American Tobacco.
In an email, the federal health minister’s office said, “inspectors are currently reviewing the ad and the associated website.”
The website for Imperial Tobacco’s “facts not fear” campaign describes vaping as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. It talks about preventing youth from vaping, and mentions vaping-related illnesses.
The federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act makes it illegal to “promote a vaping product, including by means of the packaging, by comparing the health effects arising from the use of the product or from its emissions with those arising from the use of a tobacco product or from its emissions.”
But the “facts not fear” website appears to violate that section of the law on the home page and at least seven times on the three pages accessible from the main site.
For example, a page from the site states, “Health Canada’s website affirms that ‘Vaping is less harmful than smoking.’ “
Eric Gagnon, head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs for Imperial Tobacco, said he was confident the company is respecting the law.
“Everything we do, from our point of view, is legal,” he said in an interview. “We’ll never do anything illegal. I can assure you that the advertisement, the campaign ahead of publishing looked at every detail, and we consider the advertisement to be legal.”
Imperial Tobacco appears to have made slight changes to the campaign’s website in recent days. Originally, the site contained a line stating, “since May 2018, (Imperial Tobacco) has sold, in Canada, about 100,000 Vype devices.”
Quebec anti-tobacco laws, however, ban the promotion of brands or of tobacco manufacturers. The province’s health department has also confirmed it is investigating.
Gagnon said the ads do not promote Vype products. Rather, he explained, the website “brings facts related to vaping.”
“From our point of view, it’s very legal,” he said.
After originally insisting the Vype logo did not appear on the site, the public relations firm associated with Imperial Tobacco later said mention of the product had been removed.
Mathieu Morissette, a researcher at the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute, said some of the claims on the website could constitute disinformation, including the statement about how could people be forced back to combustible cigarettes since vaping is “on the verge of being regulated to the point where it is no longer viable.”
“That’s probably false,” Morissette said. “For it to no longer be viable, it would have to be not available at all.”
“And to say people would be forced to return to ordinary cigarettes? Not at all. People could decide to stop smoking or to use other products that already exist to stop smoking.”
Morissette also took issue with some of the health claims on the website. He said although current evidence suggests vaping is less harmful than smoking, the comparison can give the impression that vaping isn’t harmful at all.
“If you compare a slap in the face to a punch, you start to believe that a slap in the face doesn’t hurt — when it does,” he said. “It’s not a lie as such, but it’s misleading.”