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Rona Ambrose, Canada's former health minister, joins e-cigarette company Juul's board of directors

Rona Ambrose, Canada's former health minister, has joined the board of directors of e-cigarette company Juul.

In 2014, Ambrose urged Canadians not to use e-cigarettes until more studies were done

Former interim Conservative leader and health minister Rona Ambrose has joined the board of Juul Labs. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press, Craig Mitchelldyer/The Associated Press)

Rona Ambrose, Canada's former health minister, has joined the board of directors of e-cigarette company Juul.

Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite announced the board appointment in an email to staff Friday.

Crosthwaite wrote that during Ambrose's tenure as health minister, she helped introduce regulations to combat the marketing of flavoured tobacco products that appeal to youth, and her government introduced a tax on cigarettes.

He said Ambrose's position on the board will help the company "work to earn the trust of our shareholders."

Ambrose served as interim leader of the Conservative Party and official Opposition from 2015 to 2017, and was an Edmonton-area MP from 2004 to 2017 when she retired from politics.

"Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and supporting the potential of harm reduction for adult smokers is an important goal for individuals and health systems," Ambrose said in an emailed statement.

"However, these new technologies will not succeed in eradicating cigarettes unless businesses and regulators work together to successfully fight the problem of underage use. We must solve both."  

The U.S.-based e-cigarette company holds the lion's share of the market in that country. It made $2 billion in revenue in 2018, the same year it entered the Canadian market.

Health Canada's website states that vaping is less harmful than smoking and that there are short-term general health improvements for those who switch from smoking to vaping.

But it also states there are serious concerns about increases of youth vaping and increased dependence on nicotine due to high concentrations in vaping products, two things that Juul has faced intense criticism over.

Nicotine is highly addictive, and Juul pods deliver more nicotine than cigarettes that is absorbed more easily into the bloodstream, according to a recent study by Tobacco Regulatory Science.

Company target of lawsuits

The company has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits — including a wrongful death lawsuit — alleging that Juul knowingly targeted adolescent non-smokers as customers, something both the U.S. company and its Canadian counterpart have categorically denied.

"Currently, without scientific evidence demonstrating safety or effectiveness, we continue to urge Canadians against the use of these e-cigarettes," Ambrose said in 2014, when as health minister she first proposed regulations on the products and requested a study into their risks and benefits.

"We have heard that e-cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to begin smoking, while also having the potential to serve as a smoking cessation tool."

The company said earlier this year it would stop selling its flavoured pods in Canadian stores, following a move it made in the U.S. in 2018.

Juul has two retail stores in Ambrose's home province of Alberta. Customers are subject to age verification before they can enter Juul stores.

Vaping has also come under additional scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the Canadian Pediatric Society warned that vaping and smoking weaken the lungs, affect cardiovascular health, and put people at greater risk of severe coronavirus infection or complications.

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