Health minister wants to curb fruit-flavoured tobacco

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New report shows that teens like fruit-flavoured tobacco products.

Toronto Star, October 8th 2013

Ontario wants to curb candy- and fruit-flavoured tobacco products and is considering its options in the wake of a report that shows children are big consumers, the province’s health minister says.

“This is a serious issue so we’re looking at what we might be able to do here,” Deb Matthews told reporters Monday.

She was commenting on a study (PDF) by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, which found that half of high-school students who use tobacco use flavoured tobacco products.

The findings are based on the 2010-2011 Youth Smoking Survey, which questioned more than 50,000 students about their tobacco use in the previous month.

“These flavoured tobaccos, they come in mango flavour and bubble gum flavour and (are) clearly aimed at kids so I have concerns,” Matthews said.

Products in question include small cigars, some of which are sold in packages that look like they could contain candy. They can be bought at convenience stores and are stored behind the counter, under cover, with other tobacco products.

“It is another way of hooking them into becoming long-time tobacco users,” charged Steve Manske, a professor in the faculty of applied health sciences at the University of Waterloo and a senior scientist with the Propel Centre.

He said he was surprised by the findings because federal legislation passed in 2009 was specifically intended to address this problem by, for example, banning flavoured additives in products that contain 1.4 grams of tobacco or less.

“Unfortunately, tobacco companies are not naïve and they have just modified the products to get around the regulation,” Manske said, noting that flavoured tobacco products are now manufactured to be larger than 1.4 grams.

But a spokesperson for Quebec-based Casa Cubana, an importer and distributor of some of the products in question, denied that the flavoured tobacco industry targets children and tries to get them hooked.

“What is being said right now about the flavoured tobacco industry is tantamount to an outright lie,” argued Luc Martial, vice-president of government affairs for Casa Cubana.

He maintained that the vast majority of flavoured tobacco consumers are adults, and took a shot at those advocating for change.

“It is none other than private agenda by special interest groups who view issues like this as their own personal playgrounds,” Martial said.

He was referring to the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, a lobby group made up of the Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario Division), Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association and the Ontario Medical Association.

Seizing on the Propel Centre report, the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco is calling for a complete ban on flavours in tobacco products, arguing that the products are targeted at young people.

“If you associate candy and fruit flavours and sugar flavour with tobacco, it helps create the impression that it can’t be that harmful,” said campaign spokesperson Michael Perley.

“Kids who are just starting to experiment with smoking are not aware of addictions and health impacts, so they definitely are influenceable because of the flavourings,” he continued.

The Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco is also concerned about flavoured chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes, arguing that those products also appeal to young people.

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