05/31/2015 15:15 EDT | Updated 05/31/2016 01:12 EDT

Alberta will ban menthol tobacco sales in four months to curb youth smoking

EDMONTON - The Alberta government is joining provinces that are banning the sale of menthol tobacco.Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says stores will be allowed to sell menthol flavoured tobacco until the end of September in order to clear their stock, but after that it will be illegal.The move by the new NDP government removes an exemption that the previous Progressive Conservative government granted for menthol after it passed legislation in 2013 that banned flavoured tobacco."These changes will help make smoking less attractive to youth. Every Albertan should be able to enjoy a life free of tobacco-related disease," Hoffman told a news conference in Edmonton on Sunday.Hoffman said about one-third of all youth smokers in the province smoke menthol, compared to just four per cent of adult smokers.New Brunswick announced Friday that it would be the latest province to ban the sale of all flavoured tobacco products.Nova Scotia has also passed legislation banning the sale of flavoured tobacco, including menthol, which took effect Sunday, and Ontario has proposed a similar ban.Imperial Tobacco Canada said Thursday it will challenge Nova Scotia's legislation on the grounds the province exceeded its legal authority with the ban. It also contends there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate that tobacco products flavoured with menthol are attractive to youth.Hoffman said she's not concerned about the challenge."I'm not surprised that a tobacco company when there's decisions being made around reducing their ability to sell products would be suing, but I'm not concerned about it moving forward and we know that it's the right decision," the minister said.The Western Convenience Stores Association said in a news release Sunday that small business owners were not consulted about the menthol ban, which it argues will lead to a black market."This decision is like putting a welcome mat out for biker gangs and criminal organizations at Alberta's borders," said the association's president, Andrew Klukas, in the release.But Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-tobacco group in Alberta, applauded the new government for resisting pressure from what it called "tobacco lobbyists.""We cannot allow tobacco companies to dictate public health and health policy in Alberta," president Les Hagen said in a news release. "In other words, we must keep the fox out of the henhouse."A few exemptions to the flavoured tobacco ban in Alberta will remain. Pipe tobacco will be exempted, as well as cigars that cost $5 each and weigh five grams or more.Hoffman said a member of her staff spoke with a representative for retailers, and that she heard from a lot of other people on the issue since she was appointed to the health portfolio a week ago. She also dismissed concerns about a black market developing for menthol."I personally think Albertans in general follow the law. And if something is illegal for purchase, I think that they will probably respect that," Hoffman said."This is really about protecting youth."