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Health Minister’s excessive power grab hidden in federal budget sets a dangerous precedence

Inconspicuous section in Bill C-69 will give the Minister of Health extraordinary powers to act on his own beliefs, without a science and evidence-based approach

June 7, 2024  By Imperial Tobacco Canada


(CNW) Montreal — At Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, Imperial Tobacco Canada (ITCAN) sounded the alarm on the extraordinary new powers sought by the Minister of Health to unilaterally overrule the established and robust regulatory process for therapeutic products.

“Tucked away in the 2024 Budget Implementation Act is an amendment that will allow the Minister of Health to overrule the regulatory approval process for therapeutic products, which include any drugs, medical devices and natural health products,” said Eric Gagnon, Vice-President, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, ITCAN. “This unprecedented power grab takes a science and evidence-based approval process for therapeutic products and taints it with ideological considerations.”

Section 326 singles out ITCAN’s new smoking cessation product, ZONNIC, despite Health Canada licensing ZONNIC as a nicotine replacement therapy under the Natural Health Products Act, which followed a two-year assessment, demonstrating its safety and efficacy for adults who want to quit smoking.

“Youth should not use nicotine products. Like cannabis and alcohol, nicotine should only be consumed by adults,” said Mr. Gagnon. “ITCAN has gone above and beyond the ZONNIC license requirements. While the tobacco industry tends to take the blame for youth use, it is not our products that are being accessed by minors. Rather, youth are accessing hundreds of unregulated and illegal brands.”

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“No evidence has been provided that ZONNIC is unsafe; that it does not help smokers quit; or that youth are using it. The Minister is trying to justify his power grab by suggesting we have violated our license for ZONNIC, which is false.  Extensive correspondence with Health Canada has confirmed this,” said Mr. Gagnon. “If Parliament is going to grant extraordinary powers to Ministers to pursue personal vendettas, it must also consider the consequences. We are the target today, but it could be any therapeutic product tomorrow, because these powers will exist for any future Health Minister.”

Wednesday’s Senate hearing follows many concerns raised in the House of Commons yesterday questioning the need for additional Ministerial authority, considering a regulatory framework currently exists that provides the powers to remove or restrict a product that is deemed a risk or not meeting the prescribed conditions of its product license.

Health Canada should approve and regulate products based on objective evidence, not the Minister’s personal beliefs or ideology. For this reason, Section 326 should be entirely removed, and the Minister should focus on addressing the lack of enforcement against illicit nicotine products across Canada rather than restricting a legitimate product that genuinely aids people in quitting smoking.


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