Health Canada and its Quebec counterpart are reportedly investigating a new advertising campaign by Imperial Tobacco Canada that focuses on vaping, perhaps proving that even when there’s no smoke, there’s sometimes fire.
According to Canadian Press story, the investigation stems from an informational ad appearing across a variety of media outlets, including The Globe and Mail and digital billboards in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square. The ad directs to a website called FactsNotFear.ca, which purports to address misconceptions around vaping.
The campaign takes aim at what Imperial Tobacco—which sells vaping products under the brand name Vype—calls “misinformation” and “hypocrisy” around the dangers of vaping. Eric Gagnon, Imperial Tobacco’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs, told The Message that the campaign will continue for another two weeks, .
The newspaper ad contends that some health groups continue to “distort the facts” when it comes to vaping, while pointing out that Health Canada agrees that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking.
The FactsNotFear.ca website notes that Canada “already has a public health policy that recognizes vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking” and says that new policies enacted in the wake of U.S. media reports documenting a mystery vaping-related illness disregard “solid evidence for vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking.”
The statements appear to contravene a section of the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act making 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.”
Imperial Tobacco did work with an external agency on the campaign and the website, said Gagnon. He declined to name the agency partner.
Gagnon said that the company has received no official confirmation from either government organization that the ads are being investigated, but stressed that Imperial Tobacco is operating within federal advertising guidelines.
“I can assure you that nothing goes out of this company without being scrutinized left and right,” he said. “The interpretation we have made from this campaign is that it is legal, it is in no way being promotional and there is no mention of any product. What the website does is it brings [forward] facts around vaping, most of them credible third-party groups.
“Nowhere do we say that vaping is harmless,” he said. “What we say is that if you’re an adult smoker, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that switching to a vaping product is less harmful than cigarettes.”
Gagnon said that the company felt it had “no other choice” than to go public with the campaign since its efforts to meet with regulators to discuss what he called the “fear campaign” around vaping have been rebuffed.
At the same time, Imperial Tobacco is also running ads for Vype’s ePod Collection. Those ads, which recently appeared in publications including the Le Journal de Montreal and Montreal Gazette, are purely promotional, touting features like the ePod’s new colours, all day battery charge and their availability in “8 intense flavours and 3 nicotine levels.”
The ads also prominently display the Quebec government logo, accompanied by standard language noting that the products contain nicotine and listing its potentially harmful effects. A listed URL, Jarrete.qc.ca, drives to the province’s “I Quit Now” website, which offers tips and encouragement for people looking to stop smoking.
One advertising expert says that including the logo and the link not only suggests to readers that vaping is a viable alternative to smoking, but that Quebec’s ministry of health is implicitly endorsing the product.
“I can’t put the Canada word-mark in an ad just because I think I’m selling great Canadian coffee at Tim Hortons,” says Eric Blais, president of Headspace Marketing in Toronto. “Do you think a car manufacturer could put the Ontario Ministry of Transportation logo because they think it’s got a feature the ministry would value?”
Gagnon said that the ads featuring the government logo—and the Jarrete.qc.ca URL—abide by government regulations, and were shared with the Quebec government as required by law. “It is not an approval process but we need to inform them that this is being published,” he said.
The FactsNotFear.ca website, meanwhile, says that vapour product sales have declined by as much as 20% in the wake of media reports about vaping-related illnesses, and suggested that curbing the use of vaping products could also lead to a rise in cigarette sales, which had been in double-digit decline.
In a separate release issued on Wednesday, a group called The Canadian Vaping Association cited studies claiming that vaping products have the potential to save billions in Canadian health care costs and millions of lives.
The organization contends that the vaping industry has saved “somewhere between 66,000 and 275,000” Canadian lives. “While vaping continues to be disparaged by the media, chief medical officials, trusted health advocacy groups and others, the facts have never changed,” the release stated. “Vaping is at least 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco.”
It said that adult only specialty vape shops have experienced a drop of “at leas 60%” in new customers and starter sales, which it said is an indication of an “extremely sharp decline in smokers transitioning to vaping as a less harmful alternative.” The fear created by false media reports, it said, has resulted in some reformed smokers reverting to combustible tobacco.