There is growing concern over the consistency of youth tobacco use rates over the past few years across Canada. In Saskatchewan, this trend is particularly troubling, as tobacco use rates in the province are consistently greater than the national average. A popular hypothesis is that the availability of flavoured products is to blame.
Multiple studies have investigated the effects of adding flavoured additives to conventional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigarillos, and cigars, as well as smokeless tobacco products. It has been consistently demonstrated that flavours can make tobacco products more palatable, by providing a more pleasant sensory experience for users. Even tobacco industry documents recognize the utility of flavours in recruiting young, naïve or inexperienced tobacco users. Many of the flavours mask tobacco taste, reduce smoke harshness and irritation, and generate harmful by-products that may further increase the appeal and addictiveness of tobacco products. These flavoured alternatives may reduce barriers to tobacco use greatly increasing the chance of an adolescent or young adult using such products.
With this in mind, public health professionals have been recommending restriction of flavoured tobacco availability to reduce the likelihood of youth tobacco use initiation, maintenance, and development of related health issues. By removing the flavoured alternatives to conventional tobacco products, the hope is that the relatively stable youth tobacco use rates in the province will decline to or below national standards.
Following recommendations to ban flavoured tobacco products, Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan emphasized that “certainly we [the Provincial government] are taking their advice into consideration. We are looking into what other provinces have introduced in terms of legislation.” Over a year later, Duncan’s message remains the same, even in the wake of progress made by his counterparts in other provinces.
The implementation of Bill 90 has allowed Nova Scotia to make history, becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to implement a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes as of May 31, 2015 (World No Tobacco Day). Following this announcement, the newly elected NDP government in Alberta amended previous laws regarding flavoured tobacco restrictions to include menthol. A ban on the sale of mentholated cigarettes will come into effect this September. Additionally, Ontario and Quebec have introduced and passed comprehensive legislation calling for the ban of flavoured products including mentholated cigarettes. Even the Federal government has recognized its initial oversight in exempting menthol from 2009’s Bill C-32 that restricted the use of flavoured additives in cigarillos and cigarettes weighing less than 1.4 grams, as well as flavoured blunt wraps. Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has proposed the addition of menthol to the list of restricted flavours. However, Ambrose noted resistance from a short-list of Provincial governments, publicly identifying Saskatchewan as a notable opponent.
After being accused of blocking a nation-wide ban on menthol cigarettes, the Honorable Dustin Duncan echoed a statement consistent with his prior “wait-and-see” stance on flavoured tobacco. On June 24, 2015, Duncan stated: “we don’t actually know how well [bans on menthol cigarettes] work or don’t work because nobody’s actually implemented them.” This statement contrasts the recent developments in other provinces, most notably Nova Scotia’s Bill 90 and Alberta’s Bill 206.
Saskatchewan’s government has held regulatory authority over restriction and prohibition of flavoured tobacco products since passing the 2010 Tobacco Control Amendment Act. As youth smoking rates in the province continue to lag behind other provinces, the government should consider the absence of flavoured tobacco legislation as a possible link to these observed trends. It is imperative that the Saskatchewan government take precautionary action to protect our youth from tobacco use initiation, addiction, and tobacco-related diseases by following the examples set out by other provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia.
– Written by Zachary Bouck, B.HSc. Biology, Masters of Public Health Candidate, University of Saskatchewan School of Public Health