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Ottawa moves to ban menthol cigarettes citing appeal to first-time smokers

Cigarettes with a squeezable menthol capsule inside the filter are displayed in Toronto on November 18, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
May 01, 2016 - 6:00 AM

OTTAWA - Like lawn darts, baby walkers and lead soldiers, menthol cigarettes are being consigned to the bad-idea dust bin of history.

The federal government has served notice it is moving to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes because of their appeal to young and first-time smokers.

A posting in the latest Canada Gazette starts the clock on a 30-day public comment period, but the writing has been on the wall since at least 2009 when the former Conservative government banned most flavoured tobacco products. Menthol cigarettes, a relic of the 1960s and a perennial adolescent rite of passage, were exempted — sparking five consecutive years of sales increases.

That's about to end.

"Tens of thousands of Canadians die each year from smoking-related illness and studies have shown that the younger a person starts smoking, the greater the risk of premature death," Health Minister Jane Philpott said Friday in a news release.

"By banning menthol flavouring, which is shown to be popular amongst those under 25, we can help steer youth away from experimenting with tobacco in the first place."

The notice from the Health Department says a smoking survey in 2012 found that 37 per cent of young smokers reported smoking a menthol cigarette in the previous 30 days.

In 2014, menthol tobacco products made up almost five per cent of the total tobacco market, with menthol cigarettes making up 98 per cent of sales.

"While no specific data is available on the proportion of youth who use cigars and blunt wraps that contain menthol, the demonstrated interest of youth in menthol cigarettes and in flavoured tobacco products in general makes it is reasonable to infer that youth would find them appealing as well," the Canada Gazette says.

Five provinces — Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — already ban menthol cigarettes and Prince Edward Island has legislation pending.

Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society says menthol serves no other purpose than to mask the harsh taste of tobacco for new smokers.

"It makes it easier for kids to experiment and get addicted and it serves as a bit of a local anesthetic," Cunningham said in an interview.

"There's absolutely no reason why an addictive, cancer-causing product such as cigarettes should have flavouring to make it taste better. And so a ban on menthol is absolutely the right thing to do."

Health Canada says tobacco use is the country's leading, preventable cause of disease, responsible for more than 37,000 deaths each year and costing $4.4 billion in direct health-care costs.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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