11/13/2013 04:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

CP Exclusive: Ontario bill to ban sale of flavoured-tobacco products to youth

TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government will introduce legislation to ban the sale of candy-flavoured tobacco products to people under age 18, The Canadian Press has learned.

The bill will target candy-flavoured tobacco products which are marketed to youth, including flavoured cigarillos and chewing tobacco, government sources told the news agency.

Flavoured tobacco products are one of the few remaining ways tobacco companies can legally market to kids, and the government believes many youth start smoking with cigarillos that taste like chocolate or strawberry.

The legislation is one of several initiatives to be announced Wednesday by Health Minister Deb Matthews to prevent young people from becoming addicted to tobacco, said one source.

Ontario passed a private member's bill by New Democrat France Gelinas in 2010 that prohibited stores from selling candy- and fruit-flavoured cigarillos to youth, but it specified the banned products had a filter and a certain amount of tobacco.

Gelinas complained producers found a loophole even before her bill went into effect by removing the filters and adding even more tobacco to skirt the law, so she proposed a broader ban.

However, the proposed new bill will not ban other tobacco-based flavoured products such as twist sticks, disovable strips and lozenges, which the Canadian Cancer Society has warned can contain three times as much nicotine as a smoked cigarette. They are sold in colourful packaging some groups say are aimed at young people and come in shapes and colours that most parents would never suspect contain tobacco.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation said companies were targeting youth with flavours like "grapes gone wild," "appletini," or "cherry vanilla," and warned parents "have to be very concerned with the ability of the industry to adapt and change and work around legislation."

The producers of the flavoured cigarillos once complained that Gelinas was missing the boat by not targeting illegal tobacco products, but she found some major companies like Imperial Tobacco supported her revised legislation. They don't make candy-flavoured cigarillos and fear those products are cutting into their market share, said Gelinas.

"You make interesting friends in that business," she joked.