Angered that tobacco companies have stepped up efforts to woo young people, the federal Health Minister has vowed to ban candy-flavoured cigarillos and tighten restrictions on advertising.
"Our government is taking concrete steps to protect young people from marketing practices that entice them to smoke tobacco," Leona Aglukkaq said yesterday.
She added that, if necessary, more measures will be taken to make tobacco products "less affordable, less accessible and less appealing to the most vulnerable segment of our population - young people."
Ms. Aglukkaq announced three significant amendments to the Tobacco Act that would:
Prohibit the addition of fruit flavours and other additives, such as vitamins or sugar, that give a candy taste to cigarillos, cigarettes and blunts (sheets or tubes of tobacco);
Make it mandatory that cigarillos and blunts to be sold in minimum quantities of 20, the same as cigarettes;
Remove the exception that allows tobacco ads in publications with an adult readership of at least 85 per cent.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said the group is strongly supportive of the proposed changes and expects speedy parliamentary approval.
He said there has been a resurgence in tobacco advertising since 2007, when a Supreme Court ruling upheld the government's right to ban ads but also clarified where advertising was allowed under current legislation.
Since then, tobacco companies have advertised principally in free weekly newspapers that are popular with young adults. (Daily newspapers can legally run tobacco ads but, like The Globe and Mail, many voluntarily refuse.)
If the amendments to the Tobacco Act are adopted, there will be only two legal forms of tobacco advertising in Canada: Direct mailings to smokers and ads in bars (though some provinces have outlawed this as well).
Mr. Cunningham said the crackdown on flavoured tobacco products is also welcome and overdue. "We shouldn't be flavouring a toxic product like tobacco to make it more appealing to kids," he said.
In recent years, sales of cigarillos and other novelty tobacco products have soared to 403 million units per year, according to Health Canada. These products include, among others, banana split flavoured "Juicy Double Blunts" and Pina Colada cigarillos
Under the amended legislation, such products would be banned. The only exception is menthol, which has long been used as a taste additive in cigarettes.
A national survey conducted last year found that about 35 per cent of teens in Grades 10 to 12 have tried cigarillos. The products sell for about $1 each or in "kiddie packs" of five that are available in convenience stores, particularly those located near high schools. These formats will be outlawed.
Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, praised the ban, saying flavoured tobacco is clearly a starter product, designed to entice new smokers.
"This ban is crucial because long-term tobacco users, half of whom die from their tobacco use, more often than not begin their addiction in their youth. This initiative is critical to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke," she said.
Paul Thomey, chair of tobacco policy at The Canadian Lung Association, also lauded the government initiative. "Strong measures such as these not only will protect Canada's children from the harmful effects of smoking, but will also serve to curtail industry tactics aimed at marketing their products to youth," he said.
Canada is failing to meet key obligations of an international treaty on tobacco control, according to a report released late last year. Specifically, the Global Tobacco Control Forum criticized Canada for not doing enough to limit tobacco advertising, for failing to demand health warnings on some tobacco products like flavoured cigarillos and for ignoring the epidemic levels of smoking in aboriginal communities.
About 4.9 million Canadians over the age of 15 are regular smokers, according to the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey. The highest rate is found among young people aged 20 to 24, more than 28 per cent of whom smoke; about 15 per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 19 smoke.