The popularity of flavoured smokes among youth using tobacco shows Health Canada's rules on marketing to kids are falling short of the target. Smoking among young people has been falling but the rate of decline has slowed. A survey by a health research centre at the University of Waterloo has shown flavoured tobacco might have something to do with that.
Flavoured cigarettes and cigarillos ("little cigars") are prohibited in Canada, according to Health Canada regulations. But there are exceptions: menthol cigarettes are allowed. Further, the flavour ban -- and the mandatory health scares adorning the packaging -- relate only to smokes that weigh 1.4 grams or less.
Not surprisingly, manufacturers are now making a heavier cigarillo, skirting the packaging and flavour laws. Half the high schoolers surveyed who used any tobacco product in the last month indulged in the flavoured kind. (Youth also smoke menthol cigarettes, but in lesser proportions.)
These are not your parents' cigarillos. They taste like bubble gum or juicy fruits like "grapes gone wild" and "cherry vanilla," precisely the kiddie appeal Health Canada's 2010 regulations targeted with its flavour ban. But the box of heavier cigarillos also skirts the rules on packaging -- there are no gruesome cancer pictures, and the package is bright, colourful and playful.
While intending to preserve adult access to the traditional menthol cigarette, which the government said held little appeal for youth, and wine-tipped cigars, Health Canada's legislation too narrowly defined the restricted products. It would have been easier simply to have exempted specific tobacco products unpopular with youth (cigars).
The government should rework the Tobacco Act, regulations and related legislation to prevent unscrupulous manufacturers from exploiting children's natural affinity for candy flavours and packaging that promises a hit of excitement. Half the 20 per cent of Canadian high schoolers (18 per cent in Manitoba) who said they used tobacco used flavoured products. That's significant. Cigarettes and tobacco are still legal, but the law needs more muscle to force manufacturers to steer their marketing away from kids.