Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco

June 16, 2008 12:00 ET

Health Groups Applaud Bill to Protect Youth From Novelty Tobacco Products

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 16, 2008) - Canada's leading health agencies today welcomed the introduction of legislation to crack down on the marketing of novelty tobacco products designed to attract young smokers.

"We are very grateful to Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis for proposing legislation to strengthen Canada's tobacco laws and to protect young Canadians from new and dangerous novelty tobacco products," said Aaron Levo, the Chair of the Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco. "We hope that all parliamentarians will work together to support speedy passage of this law." The NDP Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North today introduced a private members bill to amend the federal Tobacco Act and curb the marketing of cigarillos.

In recent years, candy-flavoured cigarillos and other novelty tobacco products have become a significant threat to Canadian youth. Health Canada data released at the end of May shows that sales of cigarillos have grown by over 300% per year between 2001 and 2006, from fewer than 50,000 units to over 80 million.

The most recent federal government survey of smoking behavior showed that Canadian teenagers are even more likely to try smoking cigarillos than they are to experiment with cigarettes, and that many teenagers who resist smoking cigarettes are drawn into cigarillo use. In terms of addiction and other health effects, these products are as dangerous as cigarettes; because they are especially attractive to young Canadians, they have the added risk of being 'starter' products for people who might otherwise never become smokers.

The groups point to weaknesses in current tobacco laws as a cause of this growing problem. Canadian law distinguishes between tobacco products which are wrapped in paper made from tobacco leaves (cigarillos) and those which are wrapped in paper made from trees (cigarettes). Unlike cigarettes, which cannot be sold in packages with fewer than 20 units, cigarillos can be sold individually and without health warning messages and are not included in many other tobacco control measures.

"Loopholes in the current law have allowed tobacco companies to mask a deadly and addictive product in candy flavouring, to package it in bright colours, to price it like a candy bar and to induce one-third of Canadian teenagers to give it a try. " said Robert Walsh, executive director of the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control. "The legislation introduced today would put a stop to this irresponsible and deadly commercial activity."

Ms. Wasylycia-Leis proposed legislation closes these loopholes by: requiring that cigarillos be sold in the same size packages as cigarettes, requiring cigarillos to carry the same type of health warnings as cigarettes, banning the use of candy, liquor and other flavourings and banning the sale of 'blunts', another novelty tobacco product.

"The alarming increase in the use of cigarillos has been known to governments for over two years, but no government has yet put measures in place to restrain their marketing, and no government has undertaken to implement the comprehensive measures included in Ms. Wasylycia-Leis bill" said Melodie Tilson, policy director for the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. This Private Member's bill goes further than recent regulatory proposals of the Quebec government and Health Canada to set a minimum cigarillo package size of 20, as it also bans candy and other attractive flavourings and requires that cigarillos have the same level of warnings as cigarettes. "We urge federal and provincial governments and legislatures to work quickly to end the marketing of these products," said Ms. Tilson.

The groups are calling on parliamentarians to continue their tradition of pan-partisan support for private member's legislation to reduce smoking. "When it comes to tobacco laws, private member's bills have made enormous contributions to public health," said Neil Collishaw, research director for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. Twenty years ago, a private member's bill (C-204, Non-Smoker's Health Act) led to Canada's first ban on tobacco advertising, seven years ago a private senator's bill (S-15, Tobacco Youth Protection Act) spurred increased funding for tobacco control and four years ago a private member's initiative (C-260, Act to Amend the Hazardous Products Act (fire-safe cigarettes)) led to Canada becoming the first country to adopt fire-safety standards for cigarettes.

"More than a quarter of a million Canadian teenagers have smoked one of these dangerous products in the past month. Each of these children deserves the protection that this law would provide," said Aaron Levo.

The Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco is national coalition of health organizations. Members supporting this initiative include Action on Smoking and Health, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Lung Association, the Coalition quebecoise pour le controle du tabac, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Contact Information

  • Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco
    Aaron Levo
    613-523-7736
    or
    Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
    Neil Collishaw
    613-233-4878 / 613-297-3590 (cell)
    or
    Non-Smokers’ Rights Association
    Melodie Tilson
    613-230-4211 x 3