By: Les Hagen, MSM, Executive Director, Action on Smoking & Health; Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health; Practice Affiliate, Centre for Healthy Communities
November 3, 2020
The rates of tobacco use among adults and youth in Canada have been declining steadily for the past several decades. The latest Canadian Community Health Survey conducted in 2017 revealed that the rates of youth and adult smoking were at an all-time low.
These declines resulted from concerted and sustained action from health organizations and professionals, all three levels of government, employers, the education sector and others. This coordinated action represents a huge public health success story that has created a culture of non-smoking in Canada.Read more
In 2013, the Alberta government became the first in North America to pass legislation to ban all forms of flavoured tobacco including menthol cigarettes. The legislation was hailed widely by health groups across the continent and it was believed that implementation was imminent and unstoppable.
Enter the tobacco industry and its horde of well-paid lobbyists—some with very close ties to the levers of power. Afraid of the possibility of Alberta’s ground-breaking law spreading to other jurisdictions, Big Tobacco registered two-dozen lobbyists to grind the implementation of the new legislation to a halt.
Once the legislation was successfully stalled, the industry set about to deliver a knock-out punch with the help of political friends in the Prentice government. Last fall, former health minister Stephen Mandel announced that the new precedent-setting Alberta legislation would exempt menthol tobacco.
Health groups and opposition parties roundly criticized the Prentice government for caving in to big tobacco companies and selling out thousands of Alberta kids to addiction, disease and premature death.
Some of the harshest criticism came from the New Democrat opposition. David Eggen called the decision a “triumph of friends and insiders” and declared that the legislation had been “sideswiped by lobbyists”. Rachel Notley accused the health minister of working with tobacco lobbyists to rewrite the legislation.Read more
Last month, the Alberta government announced that it will be banning almost all characterizing flavours in tobacco products effective June 1, 2015. Unfortunately, the sole flavour to be exempted from this ban is menthol—the most harmful flavour additive and the most popular tobacco flavour among youth.
In addition to exempting everything menthol, the government also exempted flavoured pipe tobacco (including shisha) and flavoured cigars weighing more than 5 grams each and packaged to retail at $4.00 or more. The shisha tobacco exemption is also disturbing because of the large and increasing number of youth that are now using waterpipes or hookahs.
To give credit where it is due, Alberta currently has the strongest restrictions on flavoured tobacco in Canada as emphasized by the new health minister Stephen Mandel.
However by exempting anything menthol and flavoured waterpipe tobacco, the government missed a huge opportunity to protect thousands of Alberta youth from these dangerous and addictive protects. These loopholes may result in more teens using menthol tobacco and flavoured shisha once the remaining flavoured products are removed from the market.Read more
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.Read more