Tag Archives: government

Canada’s War on Drugs…and Vitamins

On April 8, 2008, Canada’s federal government tabled bill Bill C-51.

Health Minister, Tony Clement says that Bill C-51 is designed to “modernize the Food and Drugs Act”.

Furthermore, the Bill “proposes to maintain a rigorous assessment of health products prior to making them available. In addition, we’re proposing to gain the ability to continuously monitor the safety of products even after they are approved”.

Sounds good.

Don’t want any tainted vitamins, herbs, etc, getting into the marketplace. And if they do, the government has taken the power and responsibility of recall from the manufacturers and given it to themselves.

So, essentially what the government is doing is asking the natural health product industry to prove that their products will do no harm. Once proven, manufacturers will be able to make claims of efficacy like the pharmaceutical industry.

This may even improve the business model for nutritional supplements in Canada. Vetted health claims might increase the legitimacy of the industry in the public’s eye. And yet, something doesn’t seem right with this piece of legislation.

Here is my problem with Bill C-51.

  • What are they protecting us from?
  • In 2006, the U.S. reported one death associated with the ingestion of vitamins. An unknown vitamin & it was reported that while the vitamin played a part, it was unlikely that it was the cause of death. How they would know that if the vitamin was unknown, I will never know.
  • Compare that to the 2006 data for Pharmaceutical deaths. The full report is here.
  • Pharmaceutical Categories associated with largest number of fatalities (Top 25)
  • Deaths – Substance
    382- Sedative/hypnotics/antipsychotics
    307 – Opioids
    252 – Cardiovascular drugs
    214 – Acetaminophen in combination
    210 – Antidepressants
    203 – Stimulants and street drugs
    139 – Alcohols
    138 – Acetaminophen only
    98 – Muscle relaxants
    93 – Anticonvulsants
    75 – Cyclic antidepressants
    69 – Fumes/gases/vapors
    66 – Antihistamines
    61 – Aspirin alone
    55 – Other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
    49 – Unknown drug
    38 – Chemicals
    35 – Oral hypoglycemics
    27 – Miscellaneous drugs
    25 – Diuretics
    25 – Automotive/aircraft/boat products
    22 – Antihistamine/decongestant, without phenylpropanolamine
    20 – Hormones and hormone antagonists
    18- Anticoagulants

Vitamins – 1 death

Aspirin & Acetaminophen – 199 deaths

As far as I am concerned, that should be the end of the story. The government has no business creating a problem where none exists.

Fin

For those of you who want more, here are some interesting links.

video of an anti Bill C-51 rally

Health Minister, Tony Clement’s press conference to discuss Bill C-51

article in the Globe and Mail

article in the Vancouver Sun

The (CHFA) Canadian Health Food Association’s submission to the House of Commons.

article by Andre Picard, Globe and Mail

CHFA response to Picard article

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Breaking News! The government thinks you’re fat!

Jeremy Sammut of ABC News (Australia) has written an article claiming that government sponsored programs that promote public health don’t work.

While his focus is specific to the Australian experience, his claim that Australia’s government has squandered public funds on advertising campaigns may be applicable to both Europe and North America. The fact is, obesity is on the rise in the ‘developed’ world. Attempts by national or regional governments to promote a healthy lifestyle have been unsuccessful in reversing this trend towards obesity.

Sammut makes a few very interesting observations.

First, he claims that when government assumes the role of health nazi/nanny, it absolves the individual of “their primary responsibility for the unhealthy lifestyle decisions they continue to make”, and as a result, “the lifestyle disease ‘epidemic’ is blamed on a lack of government-funded entitlement to preventive primary care”.

This takes us to the second point; “the limits of government authority over individual behaviour, and the importance of personal qualities in regulating it – why nearly 40 years of health promotion has coincided with ascending rates of lifestyle disease”.

And if we are going to allow government to assume authority over our behavior, we have to question the motivations behind this program.

Quite often, “advocates of more spending on lifestyle disease prevention often draw false parallels with the success of the campaign against tobacco smoking”. This argument is specious in that smoking bans and the ‘sin’ taxes applied on tobacco products are examples of public health regulation, not health promotion.

You would think that applying this model to public exercise and nutrition would be near impossible. Smokers were a minority group and their behavior was found to be less than enchanting by a large portion of the population. Simply put, the majority ganged up on them and enacted laws that made smoking a financial and logistical pain in the butt.

How would government apply this strategy when the majority of the population does not exercise, eats junk food and has no intention of changing?

They would start with the children. Apply a little parental guilt. Ban junk food from school (already happening). Slap a sin tax on ‘junk food’. Expand that tax to include bacon, eggs, cheese, filet mignon, etc…

Wow! Big Brother wants to tax my bacon & eggs.

While that is unlikely (I hope) to happen, Sammut’s argument is that the health promotion programs advocated for by certain lobby groups, prepared by marketing companies and approved by governments have not been successful.

In Canada, advocates of the ParticipACTION program (historical info) have considered it a success due to it’s longevity and the fact that “two years after the agency had ceased to operate in 2001, almost 80% of Canadians still recognized the ParticipACTION logo and message”.

No mention of it’s positive impact on the health of Canadians. Wasn’t that the point of the program?

Nope, cheesy commercials that you can’t get out of your head. Like this ,this, this, and check out this spoof. Classic fromage.

My Two Cents

As much as I appreciate the light that Dr. Sammut has shined on this subject, I was a little disappointed by his conclusion.

“It is therefore timely to review the evidence. Because when the assumptions are questioned and the evidence examined with a clear eye, what is revealed is that there is actually slim support for the belief that preventive public health policies – be they ‘community-wide’ or ‘high-intensity’ lifestyle interventions – have in the past brought obesity and lifestyle disease under control, or that they are likely to in the future”.

Review the evidence?

Do nothing?

While I agree that most if not all governments have a great talent for throwing great big bags of money at problems that they have no hope of solving, does that mean that as a society we are doomed to accept gluttony and sloth as our birthright?

Here are two possible solutions.

In the U.K., doctors are able to write prescriptions for exercise.

Personally, while I believe that this plan is flawed due to the fact that when the government is looking to spend public dollars, there will always be bureaucrats and service providers ready and willing to overcharge and under-deliver. However, to be fair, I should mention that this program has not been in operation long enough to show whether it is successful or not.

Another possibility would be to offer tax refunds to those individuals that can prove that they are pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Instead of demonizing the couch potatoes amongst us, reward the energizer bunnies.

What do you think?

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