POLITICS

Health Canada cracking down on flavoured smokes aimed at young smokers

09/29/2014 08:00 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - Ottawa is aiming to crack down on flavoured cigarettes that target young smokers, but anti-smoking advocates say the government's plan is too little, too late.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose is proposing regulatory amendments that would further restrict access to the tobacco products and close what Health Canada calls a "loophole" in the current rules.

Her office has announced a 30-day consultation period starting Oct. 10, during which stakeholders will be asked to submit their recommendations to the government.

Canada was the first country in the world to take action on flavoured tobacco products in 2010, banning the use of flavoured additives that contributed to making cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps more appealing to youth.

Federal legislation bans flavours — except menthol — from being added to cigarettes and cigarillos that weigh less than 1.4 grams.

But Health Canada says tobacco companies have circumvented the ban by introducing new cigars in the same flavours that were on the market prior to 2010 by changing the weight of the cigarettes or removing filters.

While the proposed change tackles one of the existing regulations' shortcomings, it falls short of what's needed to protect young Canadians from a serious threat to their health, advocates said.

"We're very concerned that the law only addresses some of the issue around flavoured tobacco, and it does it quite late," said Genevieve Bois of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.

The proposed amendments "do not touch on any other products than cigars, so all the smokeless tobacco products, or all the hookah tobacco, (and) also menthol cigarettes will not be addressed at all," she said.

The Canadian Cancer Society also called for a ban on menthol cigarettes.

"Menthol is the most popular flavour among youth. Menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke for youth and makes it easier for kids to smoke," Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the cancer society, said in a statement.

Ambrose also said Monday she's asking the federal standing committee on health to study the potential risks and benefits of so-called e-cigarettes, and to seek the advice of health experts.

Provincial and territorial health ministers are meeting in Banff this week for their annual meeting. Ambrose arrives at the conference on Wednesday.

Tobacco and e-cigarettes are on the agenda, as is prescription drug abuse and prescription drug pricing.

There are currently no provincial laws banning flavoured tobacco. Alberta adopted legislation in December 2013 that would ban flavoured tobacco, including menthol, but it has not yet been proclaimed into law.

Ontario and Manitoba have announced they will bring forward legislation and several others — including Quebec and Nova Scotia — have said they are considering the issue.