One of Canada’s largest tobacco companies says Canada’s health minister has defamed it.
On Thursday, Mark Holland slammed tobacco companies’ marketing of nicotine pouches, saying the companies evaded regulations “in a very Machiavellian way, a very dark way” to sell tobacco.
“It would seem that their intention is to addict new young people to nicotine, which is disgusting,” he said, mentioning the pouch flavours.
“Stop it. Stop targeting our kids, stop going after them with such a deadly product.”
Holland did not mention specific companies but Health Canada has only approved Imperial Tobacco Canada’s nicotine pouches.
In a statement released on Friday, Imperial Tobacco Canada called Holland “misinformed” and said nicotine pouches are a “new smoking cessation product.”
“Defaming a legal company about a product that was recently authorized for sale by his ministry is not worthy of a Canadian Health minister – even one whose background is as an anti-tobacco lobbyist,” the statement read. Holland was once the executive director of the Health and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s Ontario chapter.
Canadian health experts call for immediate suspension of sales of nicotine pouches
Imperial Tobacco Canada’s parent company British American Tobacco made more than $15 million last year, according to its 2022 annual report.
Health Canada approved Imperial Tobacco’s flavoured nicotine pouches, called Zonnic, for sale on Oct. 12. The company’s press release said the product could help smokers quit by delivering nicotine to the body.
Users place the pouches, which don’t have tobacco leaves, between their upper lip and gum.
A 2023 article in a British medical journal notes there is little extensive research and so it’s hard to “evaluate the absolute health effects of these specific products.”
Experts warn the flavours could attract young people – which could cause disastrous health consequences.
“Waiting for a whole generation to use these products before we have available epidemiology is not useful,” Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said in November.
Imperial Tobacco’s statement on Friday said the minister and Imperial Tobacco have the same goal of reducing smoking rates.
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Global News asked if the minister accepted the tobacco company’s defamation claims. His office responded by saying “smoking cessation products are important, evidence-based tools for people who want to quit smoking.”
Holland said on Thursday that Imperial Tobacco evaded regulations in getting the pouches approved. He was apologetic and said Health Canada will take a rigorous look at its review processes: “We were duped.”
Global News asked Imperial Tobacco if it was preparing legal action against Holland. The company did not directly answer but said it was “eager to collaborate with the Minister” to help educate Canadians about its products, adding it would welcome an apology from Holland.
“Neither the Minister nor anyone else is entitled to spread misinformation on our products or our company; this is something we will always defend,” the company said in the statement to Global News Friday.
“What we want is for the Minister to take the time to understand the product and our position as well as to think of the millions of Canadians who still smoke and who deserve a smoking cessation product that might actually help them quit.”
— with files from Katie Dangerfield and Sean Boynton
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