Lettre à la ministre de la santé canadienne Rona Ambrose

Publié le 24 Mars 2014

Mise à jour 25 mars, notre lettre publiée dans la Gazette de Montréal


March 19, 2014

The Honourable Rona Ambrose

Minister of Health, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

Re: Open letter to the Minister of Health on electronic cigarettes

Dear Minister Ambrose,

We as doctors, professors and health advocates strongly urge you to authorize the sale of electronic cigarettes with nicotine on the Canadian market. These devices, which basically heat a propylene glycol or glycerin solution containing nicotine, offer a safer and more acceptable alternative for smokers to appease their addiction compared to regular cigarettes.

No doubt, tremendous strides have been made over the years to impose a strict regulatory framework on regular cigarettes. More obviously can be done. Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking that one day we will completely eradicate nicotine use. The vast majority of smokers want to quit. Unfortunately, only 10% of them, when surveyed, are still abstinent after trying to quit in the past year.

In such a context, we believe that the time has come for tobacco control to move beyond the usual approaches of education, total nicotine cessation and prevention. In a landmark report published in 2007, the Royal College of Physicians makes a compelling case why harm reduction should no longer be ignored by health authorities to lower the death and disease caused by tobacco use:

  • “Current conventional preventive measures focus entirely on preventing uptake of smoking and helping smokers to quit smoking.
  • This approach will be ineffective for the millions of smokers who, despite best efforts to persuade and help them to quit, will carry on smoking….
  • Tobacco control policy needs to be radically extended to address the needs of these smokers with implementation of effective harm reduction strategies.
  • Harm reduction in smoking can be achieved by providing smokers with safer sources of nicotine that are acceptable and effective cigarette substitutes.
  • There is a moral and ethical duty to provide these products to addicted smokers.”

Electronic cigarettes are such a substitute. First, they cannot even remotely be as toxic as regular cigarettes because there is simply no combustion of tobacco which produces the smoke containing for example the carbon monoxide and the bronchopulmonary irritants which are part of the 7000 chemical substances responsible for causing cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive lung diseases and at least 10 different cancers.

Although some toxic chemicals are detected in the vapor generated by electronic cigarettes, their concentrations are just a minimal fraction of what is in tobacco smoke. As with other health interventions, this is not about the absence of risk or a standard of absolute safety, but one of maximum practical reduction in risks and the replacement of products with safer alternatives.

Second, sales data show that these products are widely accepted by smokers. In fact, there has never been a product that has generated so much enthusiasm on their part. Such interest is not surprising since electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine much quicker than existing nicotine replacement therapies and provide a similar behavioral experience as smoking.

Opponents view the fact that electronic cigarettes are well accepted by consumers as a threat because they fear they will be a gateway to regular smoking. Such a claim has yet to be confirmed since current tobacco consumption trends are still dropping in countries such as France, the UK and the US where electronic cigarettes containing nicotine are sold legally. This is not to say that there are no risks of unintended consequences, but as with other health policy interventions there is a strong preponderance of evidence in favour of the intervention. The death rates from continued smoking are simply too high to accept a continued nicotine-abstinence policy orientation.

Electronic cigarettes need to be appropriately regulated so that good manufacturing practices are followed to protect consumers and that sales to minors are forbidden. However, any excessive regulations which could make it too difficult to communicate about the reduced risks of these products or to access them should be avoided. By making it possible to market electronic cigarettes with a broad range of nicotine levels to provide an effective substitute for smokers, such a decision would save countless lives and millions of dollars in health expenditures.


Gaston Ostiguy, MD, MSc, CSPQ, FRCPC, Medical Director, Smoking Cessation Clinic, Montreal Chest Institute, Associate Professor, McGill University Health Centre

André Castonguay, PhD, Chimiste et toxicologiste du tabac, Professeur retraité, Université Laval

Jean-François Etter, PhD, Professeur associé, Institut de santé globale, Faculté de médecine, Université de Genève, Suisse

Linda L. Huehn, MD, FRCPC, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Ottawa,

Martin Juneau, MPs, MD, FRCP, Cardiologue, Directeur, Direction de la Prévention, Institut de Cardiologie de Montréal, Professeur Agrégé de Clinique, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Montréal

Jacques Le Houezec, PhD, Conseil en Santé publique, Dépendance tabagique, Honorary Lecturer, UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, University of Nottingham, England

Paul Poirier, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FACC, FAHA, Professeur titulaire, Faculté de pharmacie, Université Laval, Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec

Riccardo Polosa, MD, PhD, Full Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Catania, Italy

Philippe Presles, MD, MBA, Tabacologue et éthicien, Économiste de la santé, Directeur de l'Institut Moncey, France

Martine Robert, MSc, Infirmière spécialisée en traitement du tabagisme, Institut de cardiologie de Montréal

David Sweanor, JD, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Fernand Turcotte, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professeur retraité, Université Laval

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