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Health experts are urging the federal government to impose a lifetime ban on cigarette sales to anyone born after 2008, a proposal inspired by a New Zealand policy being shelved by that country’s new Prime Minister.

Andrew Pipe, a clinical scientist at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute who specializes in smoking cessation, said the New Zealand policy merits a close look by Health Canada and the Mental Health and Addictions Minister.

“This is a perfect way to prevent the development of yet another generation of nicotine addicts,” Dr. Pipe said in an interview. “It invites very careful consideration on the part of the Minister and Health Canada.”

He said tobacco remains Canada’s leading cause of disease, disability and death and is an “unbelievable burden” on the health care system.

The approach the New Zealand government brought forward in 2021 was well-thought-out and reviewed academically, he said, adding that many interested in tobacco control welcomed its introduction by the government of then-prime-minister Jacinda Ardern. But Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, who leads a coalition government that came into power after an election in the fall, has said his government will repeal the tobacco policies before they come into effect.

Britain is considering introducing a similar approach to the one announced by New Zealand, Dr. Pipe said, adding he is “guardedly hopeful” that a submission by Ottawa Public Health could be adopted in Canada.

It is a workable, pragmatic way to make a difference in the lives of young Canadians, he said.

Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, provided feedback in November on the federal Tobacco and Vaping Products Act as part of public consultations on potential amendments. The act regulates the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of tobacco products and vaping products sold in Canada.

As part of her submission, Dr. Etches said Canada should introduce a similar approach to the Smoke-Free Generation Policy that had been proposed by New Zealand.

Dr. Etches said New Zealand, much like Canada, has a goal of having a smoking rate of less than five per cent of the population.

Her submission says New Zealand’s policy sought to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, reduce the number of retailers who are allowed to sell cigarettes and ban anyone born after 2008 from purchasing cigarettes.

In response to a query on the New Zealand policy, Health Canada said the public consultations gave Canadians a chance to share input on topics related to reducing tobacco use in Canada, including monitoring the market and restricting youth access. The department said it is analyzing the submissions and will draft a final report.

The office of Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks said it will have more to say when the final report is complete.

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said his organization supports the New Zealand policy. The overwhelming majority of Canadians who smoke began as preteens or teens, he said.

Mr. Cunningham said if the policy were to be applied in Canada, it would need to apply to all tobacco and vaping products. There has been a big increase in youth vaping, he said, adding that not covering vaping would leave a big gap.

Additional steps are required, such as strengthening regulations, Mr. Cunningham added. For example, he said there should be fewer retail locations selling tobacco.

He said that all provinces and territories should require that stores not sell cigarettes to anyone younger than 21, as is the case in Prince Edward Island.

Dr. Etches’s recent submission to Health Canada also calls for an increase in the federal minimum age for purchase of tobacco, nicotine and vapour products to 21 (with exception of smoking-cessation products), along with other measures.

The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act currently prohibits the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 18, although some provinces have made the age benchmark higher. Products can be sold to those who are 18 in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, while all other provinces except PEI have set the age to 19.

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