This month, Canada became the first and only nation in the world to mandate individual cigarette warnings. Warning labels and graphic images have been the norm for years now. But individual cigarette warnings?
CLN asked Health Canada, and they replied, “At this time, there are no regulatory changes proposed for the Cannabis Regulations to apply individual health warnings to cannabis pre-rolls.”
At this time, suggesting that things could change in the future. After all, cannabis packages already feature warning labels. And as the Health Canada spokesperson told us:
“The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act and the Cannabis Act share objectives such as:
protecting young persons and others from inducements to using tobacco and cannabis products; and
enhancing public awareness of the health hazards of using these products.”
What guarantee do Canada’s cannabis connoisseurs have that they won’t be subject to the same public health propaganda tobacco consumers face?
But so what? Tobacco kills, and cannabis heals. Right? But who are we to judge the peaceful, consensual actions of others?
Consider cigar connoisseurs. Or how relevant smoking is in Asian cultures. Or tobacco’s origins in Indigenous cultures. If I were a leftist, I’d likely make the case that Western anti-smoking crusades are examples of colonialism and white supremacy.
According to Health Canada, “Regulations for both tobacco and cannabis products are based on the best available scientific evidence.”
But is that true?
Will individual cigarette warnings motivate people to quit? If we allow public health to claim victory over tobacco, you can be sure cannabis isn’t far behind.
Individual Cigarette Warnings: Is Cannabis Next?
It’s an almost universal belief: cigarettes are addictive because of the pharmacological effect of nicotine.
But this belief is wrong. Profoundly wrong.
Like blaming “cannabis use disorder” on THC, blaming nicotine for cigarette addiction is a theory without evidence to support it.
Most of us realize that the public health definition of addiction is bunk. You don’t have to look further than heroin-using Vietnam vets returning home and kicking the habit without treatment.
As Dr. Carl Hart says, it’s not the drugs that are a problem but our relationship with them.
For example, the casual cigar connoisseur has a much better relationship with tobacco than the habitual cigarette smoker who won’t stop despite adverse consequences.
Likewise, if nicotine were the sole culprit, then nicotine gum would be far more popular than it is. Cigarette smokers, who wish to continue consuming nicotine, could get their fix from gum, a much safer delivery mechanism.
But this is like asking cannabis consumers to consume edibles and extracts only. Therefore, it’s not surprising that researchers have found “nicotine replacement therapy” a failure.
As one study put it, “overall lack of effect [of a nicotine patch] on cigarette consumption is perhaps surprising and suggests that in regular smokers the lighting up of a cigarette is generally triggered by cues other than low plasma nicotine levels.”
It’s More Than Just Nicotine
On one level, the Canadian public health establishment understands that it’s more than just nicotine. Tobacco use is “linked to other health and social inequities,” according to a government website.
Without a source, they suggest that of the 48,000 Canadians dying yearly from tobacco-related causes, “LGBTQ+ and Indigenous people” are the most affected.
Regardless of how the demographics break down or whether “social inequities” are to blame, individual cigarette warnings won’t deter committed smokers.
Most cigarette smokers I know are sick of seeing the graphic packaging and go to a First Nation Reserve, where they can get tax-free smokes.
You can’t scare people into quitting. Cigarette smokers are fully aware of the costs of their actions. If Health Canada wants to help, they’d be better off focusing on the benefits of smoking.
Take, for example, the ritual involved with lighting a cigarette. Cannabis connoisseurs have their own traditions involving grinding flower and rolling a joint. The ritual is part of the “addiction.”
And research supports this. A study conducted on smokers used cigarettes with little-to-no nicotine. The researchers found that a quarter of the smokers experienced no physical or mental change. They did not notice the reduction or absence of nicotine.
The other quarter described a “vague lack in the satisfaction they normally derived from smoking.” Only a third experienced no satisfaction and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine plays a role in smoking. There’s no denying that. Just as THC plays a role in most cannabis smoking.
But whereas cannabis connoisseurs would likely take an edible over a zero-THC joint, research suggests this isn’t true with cigarette smokers. Many would rather have a zero-nicotine cigarette than a nicotine-heavy patch or oral mouth spray.
Stronger Cigarettes = Less Smoking
Some accuse tobacco companies of increasing nicotine in their cigarettes to make them more addictive. The Canadian government limits nicotine concentration in vapes to 20mg per millilitre. Traditional cigarettes vary.
But historically, cigarettes had almost three times more nicotine than today. Far from making cigarettes more potent, tobacco companies went in the other direction. Make cigarettes weak, so people smoke more of them per day.
Tobacco smoking went from the Indigenous method of using a pipe to the Western invention of the cigar. By the mid-1800s, cigarettes emerged as a light, short and quick “smoke” alternative to the time-consuming cigar.
Cigarettes aren’t designed for moderate use the way pipes and cigars are. Smokers are supposed to consume them throughout the day.
The Government of Canada and other Western nations (and international bodies like the WHO) ignore the first two rewards. They exclusively focus on pharmacology and then wonder why their efforts have been fruitless.
Everybody knows smoking cigarettes is bad for you. To suggest the only reason people continue to smoke is due to a pharmacological addiction is to do more harm than good.
Are you Addicted, or is it a Choice?
Are individual cigarette warnings more harmful than helpful? And suppose we allow public health busybodies to over-regulate cigarettes like this. How can we guarantee that cannabis isn’t next?
Health Canada views tobacco smoke and cannabis smoke as two sides of the same coin.
So let’s debunk this “addictiveness” of cigarettes once and for all. If we could determine cigarette addiction by chemistry alone, nicotine patches would have ended smoking in the 1990s.
Redefining smoking as a pharmacological addiction rather than a behavioural habit does more harm than good.
It reinforces smokers’ feelings that they are a slave to chemistry. It undermines their will to quit. Characterizing cigarette smokers as addicts dooms them to failure. Like our approach to the opioid crisis, it reinforces “addict” behaviour.
Today, smokers are quitting for various reasons. Health benefits, affordability issues, and growing social stigmas play a role.
But the notion that chronic exposure to nicotine creates a brain disease (“addiction”) that makes it nearly impossible to quit is based on zero evidence.
It robs people of their autonomy and freedom of choice by suggesting they are mere flesh and blood computer programs compelled to use based on the pharmacology of nicotine and the chemistry of their brains.
How to End Cigarette Smoking
Individual cigarette warnings aren’t the way to go. Scaring people into giving up a habit you’ve declared a “brain disease” will do more harm than good.
Cigarette smokers reading this would be better off asking themselves what benefits they derive from smoking. “I don’t receive any benefits; I’m addicted!” is not the correct answer.
Actions speak louder than words. Smokers should look instead to the broader context in which smoking acquired such significance in their lives.
As the 1964 U.S. surgeon-general report concluded, “The tobacco habit should be characterized as an habituation rather than an addiction.”
Public health busybodies are doing more harm than good by destroying people’s sense of choice and responsibility. Individual cigarette warnings are just another brick in the wall.