Advocating for Better Poppers Policy: A Community Update

For decades, queer folks—and particularly queer men—have been using poppers to reduce pain and increase pleasure during penetrative sex. But for nearly ten years, Health Canada has been cracking down on these substances, meaning there is no safe supply of poppers products in Canada.

In our last update, we shared progress on our letter-writing campaign to end the crackdown. We also shared stories from people impacted by this policy. Since then, we’ve continued to advocate for an evidence-based approach to poppers regulation.

At the Summit held in October 2022, CBRC’s Knowledge Translation Manager, Cameron Schwartz presented Pathways to poppers regulation: Reducing harms and promoting evidence-based drug policy for alkyl nitrite use in Canada. This presentation summarized work from a coalition of advocates, including CBRC, The HIV Legal Network, and The British Columbia Centre on Substance Use.

The group mapped out different policy options, from making poppers available as a prescription medicine to regulating poppers as an over-the-counter drug, or even a consumer product like alcohol or tobacco. While each of these scenarios would improve health outcomes compared to Health Canada’s current policy, the group recommended a return to pre-crackdown sales to improve outcomes in a timely and feasible manner.

In addition to this work, we continued to advocate through our letter-writing campaign, which has now ended. Thank you to everyone who added their voice to our call. Nearly 900 letters were sent to the Minister of Health demanding effective poppers regulation in Canada.

While the crackdown persists, our voices were heard: politicians from all major parties (Liberals, Conservatives, and the NDP) have publicly expressed support for improving poppers regulation1.

With little to no scientific evidence for its benefit, it’s unclear why the crackdown on poppers products began, as it continues to impact queer men’s lives. While poppers are not illegal to own, they are considered unauthorized health products and seized at stores and at the border. As of December 2022, Health Canada has still not authorized the sale of poppers in Canada, continuing a de facto ban on poppers in this country.

Research continues to suggest the ban has increased harms related to poppers use. Data from the Sex Now survey2 show that use remains largely unaffected when comparing data from before and after the ban. Meanwhile, with an unregulated supply it is difficult to recognize and avoid poppers that contain harmful chemicals like isopropyl nitrite, which has been associated with visionloss.

Poppers serve a purpose in our community - Facilitating sexual practices beyond penis-in-vagina sex is legitimate. Because poppers use is associated with marginal identities and sexual practices, it can be difficult to advocate for, and less likely to be recognized as a priority among policy makers. Meanwhile, as Conservative MP Michelle Rempel-Garner noted in her opposition to the ban, sexual aids in heteronormative contexts such as erective enhancement drugs are safely and legally sold every day.

So what’s next?

Poppers policy continues to cause harm for 2S/LGBTQIA+ Canadians and others. Our work continues. We’ll keep advocating to Health Canada for evidence-based sexual health policy for queer folks, and oppose bias-laden restrictions that worsen health outcomes.

There’s power in community! To continue the momentum we’ve already built against the ban, we’ll need your support. Keep an eye out for future updates and subscribe to our mailing list to learn more about our work.

1: 'Poppers' have emerged as an election issue. But what are they? | CBC Radio

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About CBRC

Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development.
Advocating for Better Poppers Policy: A Community Update
Advocating for Better Poppers Policy: A Community Update
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