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This article was published 5/7/2010 (4120 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Canada's latest attempt to curb youth smoking took effect Monday but one Quebec-based company has already found a way to skirt the rules of the legislation whose origins began in Manitoba.
As of Monday, retailers in Canada cannot sell cigarettes, filtered cigars weighing less than 1.4 grams or blunt wraps flavoured with anything other than menthol. The ban is intended to eliminate fruit and candy-flavoured mini-cigars, which anti-smoking advocates say are intended solely to get kids hooked on smoking.
But Casa Cubana, a Montreal company that imports most of its cigar products from Arizona, disagrees, saying most of its consumers are of legal age to smoke and there is no problem with flavoured cigarillos.
So the company simply eliminated the filter and added 0.1 grams to its mini cigars, allowing them to continue selling them in flavours like grape, peach and cherry.
"This product is only guilty of providing smokers with a product that looks good and tastes good," said Luc Martial, Casa Cubana spokesman.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said it is disappointing a company would disrespect the intent of Parliament but doesn't think it will get away with it for long.
Already, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq have pledged to amend the legislation if necessary. A spokesman for Aglukkaq said Health Canada is monitoring the situation "very closely."
"We are concerned by this," Tim Vail said Monday.
It appears the legislation left room for cabinet to amend the definition of "little cigar" to incorporate cigars over 1.4 grams, without having to go through an entire parliamentary debate again.
The legislation had its genesis in a private member's bill introduced in June 2008 by now former Manitoba NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. The Conservatives jumped on the bandwagon during the 2008 fall election, and Aglukkaq introduced the amendments as a government bill in May 2009. It passed last October.
Martial said the only thing the law does is ensure a black market for flavoured mini-cigars will flourish. He said the government is hypocritical for going after flavoured tobacco but not barring candy flavourings in alcoholic beverages, and said kids smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol in far greater numbers than flavoured mini-cigars.
Wasylycia-Leis, who left Ottawa in April to run for mayor of Winnipeg, said Monday the ban is mainly the result of constant pressure applied by several youth groups, including Manitoba Youth for Clean Air and Sisler Teens Against Nicotine and Drugs.
Wasylycia-Leis said it's rare for a backbencher to get the government to take up legislation and she said she counts this as one of the highlights of her 13 years in Ottawa.
"It reminds me that it really matters to be in political life, that you really can make a difference and take an idea from the community and make it a reality," she said.
This was also the second time in a week a bill from a Manitoba backbenchers became law. Last week, legislation to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for people who traffic children became law. Conservative MP Joy Smith was behind that one.