Anti-Vape Propaganda Finds a Home in Brazil’s Medical Cannabis Industry

    On June 27, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies rolled out the Portuguese translation of Transform Drug Policy’s How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide. It covers social equity taxation, in the context of making reparations for communities harmed by Brazil’s punitive cannabis policies. That same day, prominent right-wing magazine Veja claimed that the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA) was about to restrict importation of cannabis flower—in part by citing misinformation about smoking and vaping medical cannabis products.

    By July 1, ANVISA denied any plans to repeal its ordinance authorizing importation for medicinal use. The ordinance does not apply to non-medical purposes and never has, but Brazil’s right-wing policymakers have consistently twisted the country’s incremental gains on medical CBD access with broad legal regulation for adult use.

    Whether or not the timing of the Veja article was strategic, it seemed to achieve its purpose—it was heavily circulated on social media, despite being based entirely on unsubstantiated gossip. It fueled all the other iterations of drug war propaganda making the rounds as Brazil awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling on decriminalization, which after many rescheduled deadlines has been most recently rescheduled for August 2.

    An increasingly popular tactic seems to be conflating smoking cannabis with vaping it, and leaning on the same debunked claims often applied to nicotine vapes.

    “There is no evidence even that vaporization is safer than combustion,” an orthopedist who specializes in pain management told Veja. There is, in fact, ample evidence that vaping is less harmful than smoking—as well as ample misinformation about the same.

    Anti-vape propaganda serves the larger goal of obstructing access to other sources of cannabis.

    Vapes are banned in Brazil. This has ensured a robust illicit market for nicotine vapes, but there’s significantly less demand for illicit THC vapes. And while the latter have been linked to harmful effects including lung damage, regulated versions have been cited as a potential harm reduction intervention within the country. Utilizing the anti-vape propaganda serves the larger goal of obstructing access to other sources of regulated cannabis products—democratizing the medicine would threaten the profits of the lucrative pharmaceutical cannabis industry.

    “Smoking cannabis is not considered the first option for medical treatments, except in cases of harm reduction, rescue (in crises) and other very specific cases, where there may indeed be such an indication,” a pharma CEO told Veja. “Even vaping can have harmful health effects, as vape temperatures are typically still too high.”

    The harm reduction he’s likely referencing is the use of cannabis as an alternative to crack cocaine. The fact that crack is associated with Black people, and continues to be accepted as a justification of state violence, is why he can directly acknowledge cannabis as a harm reduction intervention while simultaneously dismissing any value therein. He emphasized that only non-smoking or -vaping formulations of medical cannabis, like nasal sprays, are safe. Of course, his company manufactures such products.

    The purpose of any medicine, including cannabis, should be improving quality of life for the people using it—not improving profit margins for the people controlling it.

    Since the Supreme Court signaled its intention to bring the almost decade-long wait for a decrim ruling to a close, some of the swiftest and loudest proclamations about the supposed harms of decriminalization have come from the pharmaceutical industry, including from the executive president of the Brazilian Association of Cannabinoid Industries. The unfounded fearmongering only serves the agenda of corporate capture of medical cannabis, and perpetuating the neverending drug war.



    Image via Berkeley Lab News Center/iStock

    • Felipe is a Brazilian anthropologist. He’s a criminology lecturer at the University of Manchester, where he researches drug policy, state violence, structural racism and reparations for historical inequalities. He lives in London.

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