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Zonnic pouches entered Canada with a bang in 2023 after they were approved as a smoking cessation aid, leading to their widespread availability throughout Canada. To explore why Zonnic has become so controversial, John Oyston joins us for this episode of GFN News where we dissect Zonnic's Canadian debut and the resultant response from Public Health institutions to this novel safer nicotine product.


0:00 - Coming up on today's programme
0:56 - Zonnic pouches cause controversy in Canada
1:30 - Zonnic breaks into Canadian nicotine market
2:20 - Backlash over Zonnic marketing
3:16 - Are nicotine pouches safer than smoking?
4:18 - Legal loophole leaves Zonnic open to controversy
5:23 - Could Zonnic end up getting banned?
7:52 - Health minister takes action against Zonnia
9:44 - Health Canada considers its options
12:14 - Closing remarks


00:00:04 --> 00:01:21

Joanna Junak: Hello and welcome! I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on Last year Health Canada approved Zonnic as a smoking cessation aid with no restriction on who can buy it. Anti-smoking advocates and some government officials are worried it may create a new generation of nicotine users. This year Health Canada has been working on regulatory and policy measures to prevent youth from accessing nicotine products in order to address concerns from healthcare professionals. In today's program, John Oyston, a Canadian, retired anesthesiologist and anti-smoking activist will tell us more about Canada's reaction to the launch of Zonnic. Hello, John. Thank you for joining us today. Zonnic has been sold in Canada since October last year. So which nicotine products were available in Canada up to this time?

00:01:22 --> 00:03:15

John Oyston: Yeah, up until then we had basically everything except nicotine pouches. So obviously we had cigarettes. They've been around for ages. We had snus and snus were regulated the same way as cigarettes. We had vape. They became legal in 2018 with the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act. And that was it. So, oh, and we had heat not burn because heat not burn was basically considered the same as a cigarette for legal purposes. But we didn't have any nicotine pouches and The Health Canada website was actually very much down on nicotine pouches. They said that all nicotine pouches were unauthorized for use in Canada and they were dangerous and that nobody should use them under any circumstances, which is a bit extreme. And in fact, Zyn was available illegally in Canada and people were using it. But the official line was that no nicotine pouches were allowed up until the end of last year. And what happened last year? So then Imperial Tobacco Canada, which is a branch of British American Tobacco, launched a product called Zonnic. So Zonnic is just one of the standard white nicotine pouches. It has nicotine in it. It has some flavorings. It has some stuff to correct the pH and the humidity and preservatives and stuff. So they went through about a two-year process with Health Canada to get that approved. They used a legislative system in which they compared it to nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges, which were already on the market. And they called it a natural health product, which may seem a little strange. I guess in a way, nicotine is a natural product. It comes from a plant. But that was the only legislative pathway that was available to them. They couldn't go through the tobacco or vaping products line because it's not a tobacco product. So they marketed it as a natural health product.

00:03:16 --> 00:03:18

Joanna Junak: So can you tell us what Zonnic is?

00:03:19 --> 00:04:16

John Oyston: Okay, so I should have brought one with me. It's a little pouch about this big. In Canada, we'd say it's the size of a dime. It's about the size of a cent in the States. It's white. It looks like a teabag. And it contains nicotine, which can either come from plants or it can be synthetic nicotine. And then it contains a few chemicals just to keep the pH correct, keep the humidity correct, some preservatives maybe. But the active ingredients is nicotine, and then it has some flavorings. So it's very simple and very straightforward. So it doesn't come from tobacco. It's not a tobacco product. It doesn't burn, so there's no combustion, and it's not inhaled. So it's an incredibly safe product. It's at the same level of safety as nicotine gum and nicotine patches or nicotine lozenges that you can buy from the pharmacies. as a medical nicotine replacement therapy.

00:04:18 --> 00:04:22

Joanna Junak: And how was Zonnic promoted? As a lifestyle or as a medical product?

00:04:23 --> 00:05:22

John Oyston: So the big difference between this and between the medical products is that it was sold as a consumer good. It was sold in convenience stores, in gas stations and supermarkets, basically in all the places that people buy cigarettes. So pretty much any place you could buy a cigarette, you could buy Zonnic. But unfortunately, the particular legislative group that he was in, because it was bunched with nicotine lozenges and nicotine gum, didn't actually have a lower age limit. So in theory, people as young as 12 years old could legally buy it. So the manufacturers were very clear about this. They said this was a product for 18 only. They labeled it as 18 only. They put signage up in the stores and they went to considerable lengths to tell store owners that the expectation was that they would only sell this to people over 18. So they made an effort to limit sales to people over 18, but it was not something that was bound up in law.

00:05:24 --> 00:05:33

Joanna Junak: Okay, thank you, John. So let's talk about the reaction to zoning among different groups and organizations. How did public health institutions respond?

00:05:34 --> 00:07:51

John Oyston: Yeah, so within a couple of months, a whole bunch of health organizations. I think there was six of them in the end, physicians for a smoke-free Canada, the Canadian lung association, the heart and stroke foundation, the Canadian cancer society. And I think there was a Quebec society of some sort as well, but basically all of the supposedly health promoting organizations all came together and published a joint letter saying that this was outrageous. that it was incredible that a tobacco company was now allowed to sell a nicotine product to people as young as 12. And they were calling for the product to be banned or to be made prescription only. And there was also talking about a ban on introducing any further nicotine pouches into Canada. And this obviously got a lot of publicity. It was covered by all the major media. And unfortunately, the health minister responded almost immediately. And from what I gather, he responded only with political advice and not with medical advice. And basically he said that we were duped. We were told that this was a nicotine replacement product for adults. And now we find that they're selling it to children. And he made out that this was like a huge surprise and that they'd been lied to. Now, to be fair, there was some argument in favor of this because JUUL for some, sorry, I say JUUL because the similarities are so close. Zonnic started advertising it on Instagram. And that's a very strange platform to look at. If you're looking at adult smokers, you know, people in their 40s and 50s, these people just are not on Instagram. It's mostly young people. And they use pictures and videos of lifestyle of people going to parties, people going on dates, people watching TV with their friends. And whilst none of the people in these advertisements look to be under 18, Equally, none of them looked to be over maybe 30. So there were people in their 20s and 30s, young adults. So it was looking like something that maybe it would inspire somebody who was 15 or 16. And certainly it wasn't something that seemed to be focused on adults in their 40s and 50s.

00:07:52 --> 00:08:03

Joanna Junak: You mentioned the use of media platforms in Zonnic promotions. What has been the public response to this campaign and the launch of Zonnic?

00:08:03 --> 00:09:43

John Oyston: It's interesting. It got a huge amount of publicity and so it made a whole bunch of people aware that it existed. And for one reason or another, it flew off the shelves. If you go on things like Reddit, it was full of discussion about where is this Zonnic? I can't find it. When I find it, I buy 10 packs because I don't want to run out. And for several months, they just could not keep up with the supply. So certainly it was selling like crazy to somebody, and they're not releasing data on who it was selling to. So who knows exactly who was buying it? But anyway, people were sufficiently concerned about this that in British Columbia, the health minister said that they were going to take them off the shelves. And they weren't going to be able to be sold in convenience stores anymore. They would only be sold in pharmacies. And they said this would be a big disincentive because people would now have to go to a pharmacy and actually ask for the product. And somehow they felt that this was something that would act as a disincentive to young people trying it out. But they didn't seem particularly concerned that this would be also a disincentive to adult smokers and would make it less convenient for adult smokers. Instead of buying the Sonic at the same place where they bought the cigarettes, they would actually have to make a special trip to the pharmacy and look for it on the shelves there. So that aspect of it, they didn't really take into consideration. And rather worryingly, the federal health minister was there for this announcement, and he seemed to be taking part in it, and he seemed to be enjoying it. So there's some question now as to whether there will be some federal legislation on this.

00:09:45 --> 00:09:50

Joanna Junak: Okay, so what response can we expect from Health Canada?

00:09:51 --> 00:12:13

John Oyston: It's hard to tell. Health Canada is a black box and Health Canada comes up with things without necessarily discussing it with anybody, without necessarily being logical about what they do all the time. And it's very hard sometimes to work out how Health Canada comes to its conclusions. So, for example, one of the other big things that's happening is that there was talk two or three years ago about a federal ban on flavors in vape. And a bunch of people, including myself, led us to protest about that. And that seemed to go on the back burner. And just last month, one of my friends in the vaping industry said that they're now getting meetings to go to consultations with Health Canada about the vape flavor ban. And this is something we hadn't heard about for two years. And we thought that it was dead. But now it may be coming back. So it's really impossible to predict how Health Canada is going to behave on any particular issue. One of my colleagues, Ian Irvin, pointed out that they did all go to 15 people from Health Canada went down to COP for the WHO meeting in Panama. And they spent the entirety of that meeting getting anti-vaping, anti-nicotine propaganda from Bloomberg and from all the WHO organizations. So it's a little bit concerning that if this is where they're taking their lead from, they're going to go the wrong way and they're going to be following Bloomberg's clue and become an anti-nicotine organization. But on the other hand, there are people who speak to Health Canada and try and give them a different viewpoint. Clearly the Canadian Cancer Society is against nicotine pouches, which is crazy because we know 30% of cancer deaths are caused by nicotine cigarettes. And we know that nicotine pouches have very close to zero risk of causing people cancer. So you would think the Canadian Cancer Society would be very keen to persuade people to switch from smoking cigarettes to using nicotine pouches. but somehow they don't want that to happen. And it's very hard to understand where they're coming from and what their logic is there.

00:12:15 --> 00:12:32

Joanna Junak: Thank you, John. We'll be monitoring the situation in Canada. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN.TV or on our podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN.TV website. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.