Ontario's new legislation banning flavoured tobacco will help to protect young people's health.
Toronto Star, November 26, 2013
By Leia Minaker Published on Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Kudos to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, who tabled new legislation to ban the sale of fruit-flavoured tobacco last week. This key policy will strengthen 2010 federal legislation (Bill C-32) that had loopholes the tobacco industry easily skirted. The federal government does not appear to be moving to amend Bill C-32, so provincial action is warranted to protect Ontario’s young people.
The University of Waterloo’s Propel Centre for Population Health Impact reported recently that almost half of Ontario students in grades 9 to 12 who used tobacco reported using flavoured tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco and waterpipes. Young people reported these behaviours after Ottawa passed Bill C-32.
Clearly, the federal legislation is not working as intended. Manufacturers continue to market candy flavours like chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. And young people continue to use them. It’s easy to see how lip gloss-shaped tubes that smell like cherry and contain a cherry-flavoured cigarillo target kids.
I applaud the Wynne government’s new provincial legislation that fills major gaps in current federal legislation. For example, although federal legislation only banned candy- and fruit- flavours from cigarettes, cigarillo and blunt wraps, the provincial government’s new legislation would ban candy- and fruit flavours in all tobacco products (including smokeless tobacco), and even bans menthol in cigarillos. In addition, the new legislation protects Ontario youth in parks and other public places.
While the proposed Ontario regulations are an important step in protecting our young people, menthol-flavoured tobacco is noticeably exempt from the restrictions for cigarettes. Based on what we know about youth smoking, this is a serious omission.
Over a quarter of Ontario youth in grades 9 to 12 who smoke have used menthol cigarettes – that’s more than 22,000 kids. The tobacco industry adds menthol to cigarettes to reduce the harsh taste of cigarette smoke and to soothe the throat, which is why menthol cigarettes are considered “starter products” for kids experimenting with smoking.
But the huge difference between the percentage of adult menthol smokers (less than 5 per cent of Canadian adult smokers) and the percentage of kids who smoke menthol (32 per cent of youth smokers) means that it’s not just the fruit- and candy- flavoured tobacco products that target kids —it’s all flavours.
Despite the protection this legislation will offer our kids, there will be a few critics who complain about the legislation’s infringement on their “freedom” to smoke what they want. Over the past few decades, the same sorts of critics complained about their loss of freedom to not wear seatbelts or to not smoke in classrooms or on airplanes. This is not a matter of freedom – it’s a matter of protecting Ontario’s children and youth.
Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death in Canada and globally. Tobacco industry products cost tens of thousands of Canadians their lives every year. Despite its claims to the contrary, evidence shows the tobacco industry does indeed use flavours (including menthol) to recruit new tobacco users.
The provincial government should include menthol in its list of “flavoured products that target youth.” The European Union recently introduced new rules to ban menthol cigarettes by 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering regulating or banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S., and provincial legislators in Alberta and Quebec are also considering legislation that may include menthol cigarettes.
Ontario’s new legislation is strong and leading health organizations in the province have come out in support of it. If the proposed law also included menthol cigarettes, our legislation would be the strongest in the country.
Leia Minaker is a postdoctoral fellow with the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo.