A store that specializes in products intended to cut down the dangerous effects of smoking has been warned by Health Canada it must remove its signage because the agency categorizes them as tobacco products, which makes it illegal for them to advertise outwardly to the public.

The problem is, says Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, which produces IQOS — a device that heats a tobacco stick into vapour at 350 C, but not to the point where combustion will cause smoke — is their products fit more into the vaping category, where such companies can advertise.

Because the tobacco is heated and not burned at temperatures in excess of 600 C, there’s no smoke containing high levels of harmful chemicals, making it a safer choice for those who want to wean themselves off smoking, the company insists.

“Health Canada should be encouraging us to open more stores, not take down the signs on the ones we have,” Peter Luongo, managing director of Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. said Wednesday as a work crew began taking down the storefront signage at its Wellesley St. location.

Health Canada sent Rothmans, Benson and Hedges a letter of “non-compliance” of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act on Oct. 9, specifically referring to section 22 where “no person shall promote a tobacco product by means of advertising that depicts, in whole or in part, a tobacco product, its package or a tobacco-related brand element or that evokes a tobacco product or a tobacco product-related brand element.”

It also said the two locations which sell IQOS — Yonge St., near Wellesley St. and Queen St. W., near John St. — allowed its tobacco products and devices to be available for self-service display.

The federal public health agency said the company had 30 days to comply. Non-compliance comes with stiff monetary penalties and possible jail time.

IQOS, Luongo said, is a hybrid of both tobacco and vaping products, which puts it in a grey zone. But they won’t remove the tobacco from their products because without it, “they’re not happy and go back to cigarettes.”

“(Health Canada has) defined IQOS as a tobacco product and not as a vaping product, even though it produces a vapour and doesn’t burn,” he said.

“All of the restrictions that apply to cigarettes now apply to IQOS. E-cigarettes are qualified as vaping, so there’s a different set of rules. They contain nicotine, but no tobacco. They’re basing it on whether it has tobacco rather than how risky it is and how many chemicals are in the aerosol.”

Health Canada said that as of May 23, devices that heat tobacco products are subject to all the tobacco-related provisions of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, “including those that prohibit furnishing them to youth and the ones that restrict their promotion.”

“Health Canada is monitoring the situation and will intervene should violations of the Act be observed,” said spokesman Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge.

Luongo said the company is keeping “options open” to challenging Health Canada in court, but the process could take years and in the meantime, they’d still have to remove all their signage that says “IQOS.” Instead, Luongo suggests, the health agency should devise rules for each type of product, without lumping products in only two available categories.

“They should be encouraging us to tell smokers about these products, because they’re a safer choice for someone who is a smoker,” he said. “They should want smokers to switch to these products. 

By spending their time on forcing us to take down signs, they’re not improving the health of Canadians.” 

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