Dear Premier Hancock: Put children first and proclaim Bill 206

Eight months have passed since the Legislative Assembly gave its near-unanimous all-party support to Bill 206.  If fully implemented, Bill 206 will protect thousands of Alberta youth from all flavoured tobacco products including menthol cigarettes.

Despite repeated assurances that the bill would be implemented swiftly, the bill continues to languish on the great forgotten heap of official but unimplemented provincial laws.

Thousands of Alberta youth have started using flavoured tobacco since Bill 206 was passed last November.  Many of these kids will wind up with a lifelong addiction to this deadly product.  One half of the kids who get hooked will die prematurely from tobacco use via cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease and other debilitating illnesses resulting from tobacco dependence.

Tobacco companies and their mob of provincial lobbyists are undoubtedly thrilled with the delay of Bill 206.  No doubt they are hoping that the bill will be stalled indefinitely or weakened to the point of futility.  No doubt they are busy working the backrooms and the barbeques to maintain their youth market.  No doubt they are all anticipating bonuses if Bill 206 is derailed or diluted.

The intention of Bill 206 was to stop tobacco companies from marketing candy, mint and fruit flavoured tobacco products to Alberta youth.  Over the past few decades, tobacco companies have flooded the market with flavoured tobacco products in a brazen and shameless effort to get kids hooked. 

Sadly, this predatory marketing strategy has been extremely effective.  More than one-half of youth tobacco users in Canada and Alberta are using flavoured tobacco products.  This translates into 26,000 youth in Alberta alone.

Menthol cigarettes are the single most popular flavoured tobacco product among youth with one-third of youth smokers using menthols (13,000 Alberta youth are smoking menthols).  In sharp contrast, only four percent of adult smokers in Canada are using menthol cigarettes.

Clearly, flavoured tobacco is a starter product for kids and no one knows this better than the tobacco industry which profits from every sale and from every new recruit.

By September, Alberta will have a new Premier, a new health minister, a new justice minister and a distinctly new Cabinet.  Based on the political events of the past year, one can safely assume that the new Premier and Cabinet will try to distance itself from the previous bunch. 

Will Bill 206 survive the new political directive?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime the fate of 26,000 Alberta youth will continue to blow in the wind.  And there’s a lot of wind in Alberta right now.

If the current Premier, Health Minister and Cabinet have something more important to do in the next few weeks than proclaim Bill 206, I would love to hear it.

Why defer the fate of 26,000 kids to another Cabinet with new priorities and directives?

Protection delayed is protection denied.  Put Alberta children first and proclaim Bill 206.