Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Should Feds Ban Menthol-Flavoured Tobacco?

As the federal government tries to crack down on flavoured-tobacco products, including little cigars, ostensibly targeted to youth, there’s an ongoing tug-of-war over the menthol equivalent. Back in 2010, Ottawa banned flavours said to appeal to teens, such as cherry and grape, from tobacco products that weigh less than 1.4 grams. But that didn’t change much: according to Health Canada, the industry got around the ban, in part by simply selling larger cherry- and grape-flavoured products.

Ottawa moved to close that loophole and introduced rules last month. If they’re adopted by the summer, all larger fruity-flavoured tobacco products will be verboten. But neither ban includes menthol cigarettes. And even though youth smoking rates are at a record low 7 per cent, anti-smoking advocate Les Hagen says excluding menthol is still a mistake.

Hagen points to a study from the Propel institute for Population Health that found a third of all Canadian teens have tried menthol in the last 30 days.

“This information has come out within the last few years, but unfortunately it’s not getting the attention it deserves,” Hagen said. “If the goal of this legislation is to discourage young people from using tobacco products – it should start with a ban on menthol.” That data convinced Ontario’s Associate Minister of Health to include a ban on menthol in that province’s legislation.

“The evidence shows that those who smoke menthol cigarettes tend to smoke more and that it’s harder to give up smoking if you’re a menthol smoker,” Associate Minister of Health Dipika Damerla said But Alex Scholten, President of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, says the data is being cherry-picked.

“The Propel studies show that in 2010 – 2011, 5% of students in grades 10-12 had smoked a menthol product in the last 30 days. In 2012-2013, the Propel studies showed this number had actually gone down to 4%,” Scholten said, adding “No one is focusing on that – instead they are pushing for outright bans which are not justified by the downward trending rates of youth tobacco consumption.”

Scholten says the effects of a ban are overstated, especially retailers are already legally required to ask for ID and keep cigarettes behind display bins. Banning a particular product “takes it out of that controlled environment and puts it into contraband circles, where you’re not going to see age-testing, taxation’s not going to be done … the product is not sold behind display bins – it’s sold in smoke shacks or on the street by criminal organizations,” Scholten said.

Scholten points to RCMP data showing an increase of nearly 800 per cent in contraband mini-cigar seizures after the federal government first banned them in 2009. Health Canada said it couldn’t comment on the industry’s claims, but did say it sees a need for the new rules around flavoured tobacco.

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