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COLUMN: Fun flavours a smokescreen
The Youth Smoking Survey, which surveyed students from October 2010 to June 2011, was released earlier this month by the Propel Centre for Population Impact at the University of Waterloo.
The survey finds that 52 per cent of students who had used tobacco products in the 30 days prior to the survey had used flavoured tobacco products. That translates to around 169,300 Grade 9-12 students. The figure is 30,500 in British Columbia.
While amendments to the Tobacco Act in 2009 prohibited flavoured cigarettes, cigarillos, and the sale of individual small cigars, youth still have access to harmful flavoured products, although in a slightly different form. Flavoured products are still being sold, as some cigarette companies have found ways in which to circumvent the law.
The amendments in 2009, for instance, applied to cigarillos, which weigh less than 1.4 grams, and menthol products are also excluded.
Some cigarette companies have simply increased the weight of their tobacco products and are selling products in a variety of flavours, including candy flavours, cherry, chocolate and many others. These products are also packaged in colourful ways and many do not contain cancer pictures and health warnings, as seen on traditional cigarette packages.
This combination of packaging and flavours entices youth to try these harmful products, and many may become lifelong users.
According to the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), “all tobacco products, including flavored tobacco products, are as addictive and carry the same health risks as regular tobacco products.”
Furthermore, the FDA also describes how cigarette smoking can cause a variety of cancers, and heart and lung disease.
While most Canadian youth have learned about the health hazards of smoking in school, it is important for them to realize and not be deceived by some tobacco companies which are simply repackaging and flavouring these dangerous products to target youth. Schools should also take actions to raise awareness about these new forms of flavoured tobacco, and how they have negative health implications.
While the Tobacco Act amendments of 2009 were a step in the right direction, more government action needs to occur so that the purpose and intent of these amendments is actually carried out. While Health Canada does issue warnings and seize products if rules are broken, legislation is needed which will prevent tobacco companies from simply making a few minor changes to their products and escaping consequences by utilizing loopholes for their protection.
The Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, which includes the Canadian Cancer Society (Ontario), Ontario Medical Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, and Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, wishes to see a ban on all flavoured tobacco products.
Provincial governments in Quebec and Alberta are considering bans on flavoured products.
Ontario’s health minister is also concerned with the latest data and is considering taking action.
A dialogue on how to best prevent flavoured tobacco products from falling into the hands of youth also needs to occur at the government level in British Columbia. Potential actions to consider may be a full ban on all flavoured products, implementation of explicit and larger health warnings on these products, stronger prevention of the sale of products to underage smokers, increases in the current 1.4-gram weight restrictions, new packaging guidelines, stricter ID checks, and significant increases in the legal smoking age for tobacco products, especially flavoured products.
A concerted and collective effort by both provincial and federal governments to close loopholes and prevent the sale of flavoured products to youth is needed for public health protection.
Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.