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CANADIAN PRESS REPORTER BIZARRELY CLAIMS
GOVERNMENT IS ABOVE THE LAWS OF CANADA
BREAKING NEWS – October 25, 2013
Helen Branswell (medical reporter for the Canadian Press since 2000) has landed herself and her employer in hot water
after a story written by her, containing false information which defames numerous small businesses in Canada, was
published without being fact-checked. Refusing to acknowledge the error, the journalist has since put forth a bizarre
defense in Twitter – by publicly claiming that the laws of Canada don't apply to government agencies.
In her October 7, 2013 article entitled “E-cigarettes could hook new generation on nicotine, medical journal warns”
Branswell states the following: “Under Canadian law, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes with nicotine.”
Branswell notably fails to reference any Canadian laws in the article. The piece was sold to newspapers and news providers
all across Canada (such as CTV News, the Globe and Mail, Global News, the Vancouver Sun, the Winnipeg Free Press, the
Mountain View Gazette etc) – essentially telling the public that numerous small businesses in this country which openly sell
e-cigarettes with nicotine are being run by criminals, selling an illegal product.
The problem? Simple fact-checking reveals it isn't true.
As a matter of record, Canadian law does not outlaw the sale, purchase, ownership or use of electronic cigarettes with or
without nicotine – it never has. Instead, it regulates the hardware as a consumer product, and the liquid with nicotine as a
consumer chemical product. When asked to explain “which law” she was referring to that outlaws e-cigarettes with
nicotine, Branswell could not do so – instead quoting an archival Health Canada advisory from nearly five years ago.
Health Canada, under pressure from a number of groups to protect tobacco-tax revenues and the pharmaceutical
industry's smoking-cessation products, quietly released the advisory in question in March 2009. But a closer
examination reveals the document to be surprisingly deceptive and omissive.
It states that e-cigarettes “require market authorization [from Health Canada as medicines] before they can be
imported, advertised or sold in Canada.” Further sections in an expanded copy of the same advisory from the
same date make clear that they are indeed referring to medicines authorization: “...an electronic smoking product
delivering nicotine is regulated as a New Drug...” “...the delivery system within an electronic smoking kit that
contains nicotine must meet the requirements of the Medical Devices Regulations.”
But according to Canadian law, the advisory is dishonest – because e-cigarettes with nicotine do not meet the
legal definition of a medicine. The Food and Drugs Act (and accompanying Food and Drug Regulations) state that
a “drug” or “new drug” (i.e. a medicine) must either claim to be a medicine and/or function as a medicine.
E-cigarettes with nicotine do neither.
Obviously a non-medicine cannot lawfully be required to seek approval as a medicine. More importantly, it is not
even lawfully possible for a non-medicine to receive authorization as a medicine.
So why did Health Canada lie in its advisory and contradict Canadian law? The answer is simple. Firstly, by
claiming e-cigarettes need an authorization that cannot possibly be granted, Health Canada believes it has tied
the product up in effective limbo. However this only works on those who have not checked to see what the law
really says – and increasingly, e-cigarette businesses in Canada are not being fooled by this sleight-of-hand.
Secondly, as a safer consumer alternative to smoking which offers all the pleasure of smoking, but has not been
scientifically demonstrated to offer any more risk than typical caffeine consumption (i.e. virtually none), e-cigs
present a grave threat to the future profitability of tobacco cigarettes. They also endanger the future profits of
largely ineffective medicinal nicotine patches and gums.
Canada's government takes in billions of dollars each year in tobacco-tax revenue alone. To say they aren't eager
to see the status quo change – even if it saves the lives of millions who would otherwise die from smoking – is an
BREAKING NEWS – CANADIAN PRESS REPORTER CLAIMS GOVERNMENT IS ABOVE THE LAW (Continued)
Bizarrely, anti-smoking organizations also oppose electronic cigarettes – not because of legitimate health
concerns, but due to financial considerations and their own self-interest. To elaborate: many of these groups have
found tobacco control to be a very lucrative gravy train. Their efforts are well-funded by pharmaceutical
companies, in exchange for an ever-present hard sell of pharma's ineffective cessation products.
E-cigarettes have thrown a huge wrench into that well-oiled machinery. If vast numbers of Canadian smokers
switch to e-cigarettes and no longer smoke, anti-smoking groups will no longer have a reason to exist. They are
no more eager than Health Canada is to see smokers voluntarily switch in droves to a non-lethal consumer
-In any event, an advisory is not a law. Laws are laws. When asked again to provide a reference to a Canadian law that
would back her statement, Helen Branswell could not do so. She therefore quoted the same Health Canada advisory from
2009 for a second time – albeit this time, a slightly expanded edition of the same advisory.
Many Canadians will be outraged to learn that Health Canada is using public funds to dishonestly and unlawfully suppress
electronic cigarettes with nicotine – though it is (sadly) no surprise to some that our government is willing to lie in order to
achieve an unethical aim. Fortunately, regardless of what government agencies say or do not say, Canadian law itself
speaks clearly. Equally clear is the fact that all citizens, including our government, are subject to the law. That much is
clear to everyone – except Helen Branswell.
As the medical reporter for the Canadian Press, Branswell decided to report as fact that products deemed legal by
Canadian law are “illegal” – solely on the basis of her having seen an old advisory, which she did not fact-check. When
proof from the law was presented to her and the truth was revealed, rather than admit her mistake, Ms. Branswell doubled
down and began bizarrely insisting that the government of Canada...is above the law.
Helen – “I think @HealthCanada gets to decide what are meds, @rachelcoffe. Not a pro e-cigarettes website. But
let's agree to disagree."
Rachel – ".@HelenBranswell @KingstonMOH Wrong Helen. #CanadianLaw gets to decide how #medicines are
legally defined. @HealthCanada has to obey the law"
Helen – "So we agree to disagree then."
Above: a partial screencap from Branswell's Twitter dialogue with rachelcoffe. A full size JPEG of the thread may be viewed
by clicking here. The full thread in Twitter may be viewed by clicking here.
BREAKING NEWS – CANADIAN PRESS REPORTER CLAIMS GOVERNMENT IS ABOVE THE LAW (Continued)
The Canadian Press is now faced with the embarrassing circumstance of having its own medical reporter publicly disagree
with the statement: “Health Canada has to obey the law.”
Helen Branswell doesn't seem to care. When presented with proof from the law, she disagrees with it (though how does
one 'disagree' with a fact?) – and not just in Twitter, but in her journalism all across the country. If Branswell thinks
something is illegal (even though it isn't, and fact-checking proves that it isn't), that's what the Canadian public will see.
That's what the Canadian Press will report. If this is a new standard, it stinks.
This sort of journalism is not just dangerous or dumb, though it's both of those – it's defamatory. Only Canadian ecigarette entrepreneurs know for certain what damage this article will have on their businesses. They have yet to file a
lawsuit against the Canadian Press, Branswell or the numerous news agencies that published the article – but that may
The real question is: how long can the Canadian Press afford to keep Helen Branswell on their staff, now that she's become
a liability? For Canadians interested in fact-checked and truthful reporting, the hope is not for long.
- Rachel Steen
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Rachel Steen is a legal researcher and e-cigarette user living in Toronto. While her passion for
electronic cigarettes most frequently comes to the fore in her job, she is equally passionate about her family, Canadian
politics (we need proportional representation!), music, and coffee.
-DID YOU KNOW?
Canadian law regulates e-cigarette hardware items (batteries, cartridges, USB chargers, plastic or metal tubes,
electronic merchandise etc) under certification standards as consumer products, in numerous industries – not just
the e-cigarette industry.
Canadian law regulates e-juice with nicotine (the liquid that is vapourized by an e-cigarette) under the Consumer
Chemicals and Containers Regulations, 2001, since it meets the legal definition of a consumer chemical product.
What Are Electronic Cigarettes?
Myth vs Fact Quick Sheet
VP Live Radio – October 19, 2013 – What Does The Law Say? (audio)