The candy-flavoured cigarillos come in peach, cherry, strawberry and vanilla and are packaged individually in a plastic tube resembling a felt marker or lip gloss.
They may look harmless - there is no health warning on the package - but they are just as dangerous as cigarettes and represent the latest attempt by the tobacco industry to hook teenagers on smoking, say those seeking to ban their sale.
Two members of the Ontario legislature introduced a joint private member's bill on Thursday that would ban the sale of single, flavoured cigarillos available in convenience stores for as little as $1 each. It would require that the cigarillos be sold in packages of no less than 20 and without the candy flavours clearly designed to appeal to teens.
"This is the leading edge of a new generation of alternative tobacco products," Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, said at a news conference.
New Democrat MPP France Gélinas, who introduced the bill with Liberal backbencher Dave Levac, said the government needs to close the gap in the province's anti-smoking laws as part of its efforts to curb tobacco use.
The bill appears to be well on its way to a speedy passage into law. MPPs from all three political parties voted in support of the bill on Thursday. It passed second reading and has been referred to a government committee for debate.
Sale of the individual cigarillos could also be banned in other provinces. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during the recent federal election campaign that the Conservatives will set a minimum package size and restrict the use of flavour in tobacco products. Quebec already bans the sale of single tobacco products.
Flavoured cigarillos are small cigars that have about the same size and feel as a cigarette and are packaged to look like candy. They are sold under what appears to a loophole in the laws governing cigarette sales. Because the cigars are sold individually and wrapped in tobacco leaf instead of paper, they are exempt from federal rules that require clearly marked warnings about the health risks associated with smoking.
"The appearance of these products bears no relationship to their deadly contents," said Mr. Perley, who displayed dozens of samples of the cigarillos at the news conference, all purchased within two kilometres of the provincial legislature.
The "Happy Hour" cocktail cigarillos, for instance, come in tiny packages of ten. "I call this the kiddie pack," said Ms. Gélinas, holding up the box of appletini flavoured cigarillos - sour apple with a citrus twist. Unlike the cigarillos that are sold individually, the ones sold in packages have a Health Canada warning on the back of the package that says, "tobacco smoke causes oral cancer, gum diseases and tooth loss."
The sale of the individual cigarillos has exploded in recent years, all largely unnoticed. Sales of single cigarillos across Canada have soared from just 50,000 in 2001, to 80 million in 2006, Mr. Levac said.
"We're a little slow off the mark," he said. "This product has grown up under the radar."
Not everyone is happy with the proposed ban. Luc Martial, head of government affairs at Casa Cubana, an importer of the cigarillos, said the bill is unfounded and unwarranted.
"The vast majority of what has been said about flavoured cigarillos is tantamount to an outright lie - with regard to the industry, the market and the product," Mr. Martial said in a statement.
He said banning the sale of individual, flavoured cigarillos would "needlessly" hurt legitimate businesses in Ontario and effectively re-direct tens of millions of dollars in government revenue into the "waiting hands" of a criminal underground.