Libby supports regulations for safer cosmetic contact lenses

House of Commons
January 31, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-313.

I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for bringing forward the bill. Some of my colleagues already spoke to the bill in the first hour of debate and signified our support for this legislation and that certainly continues. I do not know that there is more information to add in the second hour of debate, but it is important that we have a second hour of debate.

I want to begin my remarks by speaking more generally about what the bill raises in an important sense.

The health care system in Canada is huge. We have many health care concerns, such as natural health products and the mainstream health system itself. There is no doubt that we live in an age where more and more cosmetic-type therapies, aids and assistance, whether they are in drugs or other forms, are available on the market. One only has to look at television or any form of mass media to see the incredible amount of advertising and promotion of all kinds of products. One the one hand we can say that is a good thing in that consumers have lots of choice in this country. On the other hand, as Members of Parliament we hear stories from our constituents of things that have happened to people or complaints that have been made.

With that huge array of products and therapies on the market there also has to be a sense of responsibility. It speaks to the importance of why we are here, why we have government, and that is to look out for the public interest. Sometimes the marketplace does not do all it is hoped it would do. It does not necessarily assume the responsibility of safety and awareness. Although there are many instances where voluntary associations of businesses or sectors promote awareness and education, they sometimes do not go as far as they need to go.

This bill provides illumination and an example–I was going to say a lens; excuse the pun–of the enormous number of products that are available and that there is not necessarily the kind of consumer awareness, education and regulation that is needed to make sure that people are safe.

For that reason, it is an opportune time for the bill to come forward. It draws attention to the problems with cosmetic contact lenses and the fact that they are not regulated and that they have caused problems for people. Consumers may not be aware of the possible infections, irritations or allergies and other problems that these products can cause.

Bill C-313 would amend the Food and Drugs Act to classify cosmetic contact lenses as class II medical devices, which would bring them in line with what we normally see as regular contact corrective lenses. This first step would require all cosmetic lenses sold in Canada to be licensed through Health Canada. Distributors of the products would require a medical device establishment licence. People fret about bureaucracy, rules and regulations, but we have to strike that balance.

In years gone by, going back to October 2000, Health Canada actually issued warnings about coloured contact lenses. In 2003, Health Canada commissioned a third party risk assessment report, “Human Health Risk Assessment of Cosmetic Contact Lens”. There are some serious concerns. The report concluded that the available evidence suggests that the level of risk associated with the use of cosmetic contact lenses is comparable to that associated with corrective lenses and may be potentially higher. The risk assessment report recommended that cosmetic contact lenses be regulated by Health Canada, such as requiring prescriptions for their use and restricting their sale to regulated health professionals.

It is very important that this be followed up. One query which was raised by some of my NDP colleagues in the earlier part of the debate was that while we are happy that the member brought forward the bill as a private member’s bill, one would have hoped, as a result of this work that goes back to 2000 and 2003, the government would have brought it forward itself. That did not happen, but it is good that it is now before us as a private member’s bill.

We are in full support of the bill. We believe it is very important that the vision of Canadians be protected, that there be consumer awareness, that there be proper regulation and that there be a level of professionalism within the industry so that consumers have some measure of protection. That is the very least we should be doing.

I think the bill will pass at second reading. I look forward to it going to the health committee. I hope that we can look at the bill in more detail and that we will be able to hear some witnesses. Major organizations are supporting the bill and I am sure they will have some good recommendations for us to look at.

Again, I want to thank the member for bringing the bill forward.

I hope that we can deal with this issue. We will have taken just a little tiny step to ensure there is better safety for Canadians in terms of their vision and that we will have created a better awareness about this problem.

When people are out there in the marketplace and getting drawn in by the sometimes very persuasive advertising and marketing that goes on, there could be a counterbalance to that in terms of regulation, to ensure there are proper standards and licensing, but also in terms of making consumers and potential buyers aware of what it is they are purchasing, what are some of the risks and what needs to be done in terms of handling and using this particular product.