The federal government announced plans on Friday to ban menthol flavours from tobacco products, making Canada one of the first countries in the world to enact such legislation.
The move is significant because it will help prevent young people from trying cigarettes, said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society. Menthol numbs the throat, masking the harshness of cigarettes, he said.
"Menthol makes it easier for youth to experiment and become addicted," Mr. Cunningham said.
Lesley James, senior manager of health policy at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said menthol is a "gateway" flavouring agent and it is important to move forward with the proposed ban.
"Menthol-flavoured cigarettes are one of the most dangerous and deceptive tobacco products," Ms. James said.
According to the 2012-13 Youth Smoking Survey, about 30 per cent of Canadian high school smokers reported using menthol cigarettes.
The Canadian Cancer Society says only 5 per cent of adult smokers use menthol.
Ethiopia has banned menthol from tobacco, while the European Union and Turkey have bans coming into effect in 2020.
Five provinces have approved menthol bans.
Restrictions are in place in Nova Scotia, Alberta and New Brunswick.
Quebec's ban is set to take effect in August, and Ontario's will follow on Jan. 1, 2017. PEI has announced regulations but they have not yet been approved.
Several provinces are facing legal challenges over their menthol bans from the tobacco industry, which suggests the legislation is overreaching.
For instance, a Nova Scotia lawsuit argues the ban is not valid because menthol is exempt from a federal list of prohibited flavour additives.
Mr. Cunningham said the lawsuits are a public relations exercise and that the federal legislation will wipe out the arguments made about provincial overreach.
The proposed ban is open for a 30-day consultation period, after which draft regulations can be published and adopted.