On the occasion of National Non Smoking Week, a group of national and provincial health agencies is calling for the federal government to crack down on the marketing of tobacco novelties aimed at youth.
"Within the shadow of Parliament Hill, we were easily able to find deadly tobacco products that look like candy or a fruit roll-up," said Dr. Atul Kapur, President of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "These are exactly the types of products that the government set out to ban three years ago." Dr. Kapur displayed some of the 19 different products that were found in over 60 different flavours in stores in downtown Ottawa.
When the Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act was passed in September 2009, there was a widespread belief that this new law would end the sale of flavoured cigarillos, as it was intended to do. There was also widespread hope among many that the government would extend the ban to flavoured smokeless tobacco and flavoured shisha (waterpipe tobacco).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had expressed his intention clearly on September 17, 2008 when he said, "As a parent, I was appalled to see tobacco being marketed in a way that is so enticing to children. Flavouring and packaging them like candy, gum or a fruit roll up. This just isn't right. This practice can't continue. We will not tolerate it."
Three years ago, the government passed legislation to protect young people from tobacco marketing practices designed to entice them into smoking–the use of kid-friendly flavourings in cigarillos and the sale of blunts and kid-friendly cigars in single or small quantity 'kiddy-packs'. "The situation we find ourselves in today is the result of tobacco companies exploiting loopholes in the law. They have redesigned their products so they could continue to sell flavoured little cigars and blunts in small, 'try-me' packs that teens can afford. We are also seriously concerned that Health Canada has failed to meet even the minimum international standard of health warnings for these products," denounced Dr. Kapur.
"Smokeless tobacco causes serious oral diseases, yet these products continue to be available in kid-friendly flavours, with inadequate health warnings," said Dr. Robert MacGregor, President of the Canadian Dental Association. "We need a comprehensive ban on flavours and prominent, effective warnings for all tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco products," he concluded.
Under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Canada ratified in 2004, all tobacco products must carry a large, clear, visible and legible health warning that covers at least 30% of each principal display area. In Canada, no health warnings are yet required on cigars that are sold in single units, or on shisha. Although Canada requires health warnings on pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and cigars sold in packages, the current warnings do not meet the minimum FCTC standards.
"We applaud Minister Aglukkaq for requiring new warnings on cigarette packages that will cover 75% of principal display surfaces and will appear on packages in a few months. Now it is time for her to turn her attention to other tobacco products and ensure that warnings on those packages are equally large and effective," said Dr. Kapur.
Dr. Kapur warned that the absence of health warnings is leading to a hidden tobacco epidemic. "If Health Canada required these products to carry large health warnings like the ones on cigarettes, kids would be more likely to understand how harmful these products are and more likely to understand that smoking cigars or cigarillos, sharing a waterpipe/hookah with friends, using smokeless tobacco, or mixing their marijuana with tobacco are simply other ways to become addicted to tobacco." The most recent youth smoking survey found that only 1 in 7 young people who smoked cigarillos defined themselves as a 'smoker'.1
The groups are calling on Prime Minister Harper to play a leadership role once again to close the loopholes in the law so that flavoured cigars in affordable small packs are no longer available to youth and to extend the flavouring ban to all other tobacco products. The groups are also calling on the federal Minister of Health to commit her department to developing effective regulations to require equally effective health warnings on all tobacco products sold in Canada.
For more information:
- Flavoured Tobacco
- Candy coating the truth: The availability of flavoured tobacco, by Annie Duchesne
- Smokeless tobacco: Candy-coating carcinogens
- Canada's doctors remind Prime Minister of his campaign promise: Flavoured cigarette ban costs nothing and will pay big dividends. News release of January 14, 2009.
Organizations wanting an end to kid-friendly tobacco products and calling for effective health warnings on all tobacco products include:
Canadian Dental Association
Clean Air Coalition of British Columbia
Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac
Flavour ... GONE!
Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco
Non-Smokers' Rights Association
Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
Smoke-Free Nova Scotia