Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kids puffing flavoured tobacco

Companies using loophole in federal law to peddle their products

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Wanna peach-flavoured cigarillo? How about one that tastes like maple syrup ? Mango?

Maybe a wad of cherry snuff? Or try some chocolate-flavoured tobacco for the hookah?

Maybe you won't -- but there's a good chance your kids already have.

Manitoba teenagers are turning to flavoured tobacco, states a study released Monday, and that has cancer-care groups and medical authorities calling for a ban on the sale of a plethora of cigarillos, water pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco (along with menthol cigarettes) that smell like fruits and candy.

The Youth Smoking Survey, which included more than 50,000 respondents, said nearly half (49 per cent) of the high school students in Manitoba who used tobacco in the last 30 days used products such as Sweet Tips grape (Prime Time), Juicy Bluntarillo watermelon or Bullseye vanilla.

"I don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but they (tobacco companies) are peddling death," said Erin Crawford, director of public affairs for the Canadian Cancer Society. "Anything that we see that makes tobacco more appealing -- especially to kids -- that's a real concern for us. There's one (cigarillo) in front of me right now and it smells just like Bubblicious."

'We hear all the stories about what cigarettes can do to you, but when someone offers you a flavoured cigarillo it's like, it can't be that bad'

The study, conducted between October 2010 and June 2011 by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, also showed 13 per cent of Manitoba high school students had smoked cigarettes within the previous 30 days, 18 per cent had used some tobacco product and nine per cent had used some type of flavoured tobacco product during the same period.

Crawford cited a loophole in federal law that in 2010 banned flavoured cigarillos under 1.4 grams. The companies, such as Prime Time, simply began marketing the dark, slender cigars over 1.4 grams.

Many cigarillo brands are sold in singles at around $1.80 each, making them affordable for kids who can't scrounge up $15 for a pack of brand cigarettes, Crawford added.

Crawford said the results of the survey will be delivered to Manitoba Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau this week. If the federal government won't move to restrict flavoured tobacco sales, she said advocates would push the province to introduce laws restricting the products.

"Really, what we need is a more blanket legislation barring flavouring completely," she said. "It's a matter of will. But when you look at the stats, and you look at the fact you have an opportunity to stop cancer before it starts... how can that (will) not be there?"

The emergence of flavoured tobacco is a relatively new phenomenon and one parents probably know little about.

Out of a handful of teenagers taking a smoke break near East Kildonan High School Monday afternoon, the vast majority, between the ages of 16 and 20, said they smoke only name-brand cigarettes. But in an informal poll, that same majority also said their introduction to tobacco was via flavoured tobacco.

"That's how a lot of people start," said Shawn, 18. "We hear all the stories about what cigarettes can do to you, but when someone offers you a flavoured cigarillo it's like, it can't be that bad."

"And there ain't no scary pictures on the packs, either," added Dylan Cusson, referring to the warning labels and disturbing photos mandatory on cigarette packages.

Instead, the cigarillo packs are colourful. They would be easily be mistaken for packaging for school pens or markers.

Riley, 18, said his first cigarillo tasted like "fuzzy peaches." Today, he smokes regular brand cigarettes; Players or Canadian Classic.

Students also agreed: Flavouring had far less influence on their decision to smoke than their peer groups, including parents.

Over at Maples Collegiate, 16-year-old Darien said tobacco firms were obviously catering to youth with flavoured brands. "I think there's a lot more money in kids than older people," he said.

Murray Gibson, executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Association (MANTRA), expressed surprise over the penetration of flavoured tobacco use.

"This brought home (federal legislation) is not working, and it needs to be dealt with," he said. "Why governments are not prepared to move on this... is concerning."

Greg Shedden, head of social sciences at Sisler High School and teacher/adviser to the school's S.T.A.N.D. program (Sisler Teens Against Nicotine and Drugs), said flavoured tobacco represents just another skirmish in the ongoing war against the tobacco industry.

"They're not kidding anybody," Shedden said. "The youth market is dying out and they have to reach out and find more tricks. It's endless. Ultimately, their survival depends on loopholes and new product. It would be nice if they just gave up, but they won't."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

If the federal government won’t move to restrict flavoured tobacco sales, should the province introduce laws restricting the products? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 6:47 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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