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.
The political tables have turned in Alberta with the opposition and governing parties trading places in the Legislative Assembly. The obvious question is--will the new governing party do the right thing and protect Alberta youth or will they too be high-jacked by Big Tobacco and its horde of lobbyists?
The test of the new government’s resolve on menthol tobacco will come very shortly since the new weakened tobacco rules are set to take effect on June 1.
Will the new Premier and her government allow the tobacco lobby to prevail or will she grab the reins and provide Alberta youth with first-class protection from flavoured tobacco?
Menthol is the most popular tobacco flavouring among Canadian youth and it is also the most harmful. Menthol soothes the throat, opens the airways and it facilitates nicotine absorption. For these reasons, menthol is a starter product that increases nicotine addiction and tobacco consumption among youth. Young smokers who use menthols smoke 60 percent more cigarettes than non-menthol users.
One third of adolescent smokers are using menthol tobacco compared with only one in twenty adults. In Alberta, this translates into 6,500 menthol smokers in grades 6 to 12.
Based on these disturbing facts we hope that the Notley government will move swiftly to protect Alberta youth from all flavoured tobacco products.
There are 6,500 good reasons why the government needs to ban menthol tobacco. There are 6,501 good reasons if you include the sharp reaction from the New Democrats to the menthol exemption.
We urge Premier Notley to stand up for Alberta youth and protect our kids from the predatory marketing strategies of this unscrupulous industry. Protection delayed is protection denied.
Final note: Apart from temporarily derailing Alberta’s ban on menthol tobacco—the tobacco lobby has been largely ineffective at preventing other jurisdictions from following Alberta’s initial lead. Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec have all introduced laws to ban menthol and other flavoured tobacco within the past few months. The Nova Scotia ban will take effect on May 31. The Ontario and Quebec laws are expected to pass this spring. Will Alberta be next?