A new Canadian study into the use of menthol tobacco by adolescents has health groups in the province once again urging the Minister of Health Dustin Duncan, to act on evidence and ban all flavoured tobacco products, including menthol.
The study, published in the June issue of Cancer Causes and Control, found that youth who smoke menthol smoke more cigarettes on average than youth who don’t smoke menthol. The study also found that menthol smokers were three times more likely to report that they intended to continue smoking than non-menthol smokers.
“Preventing youth smoking requires us to think beyond just the cherry and bubblegum as flavours that entice children. This study shows that for kids, menthol cigarette smoking is also associated with significant risks compared to smoking regular cigarettes,” says Dr. Leia Minaker of the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact and co-author of the study.
According to Minaker, previous studies have shown that menthol cigarette use is associated with higher levels of nicotine addiction, and lower rates of quitting smoking.
According to the Youth Smoking Survey (2010-11), more than a third (36 per cent) of Saskatchewan high school students who smoked cigarettes in the previous 30 days had smoked menthol. The high popularity for menthol cigarettes among youth contrasts with a low level of popularity among adults, with menthol cigarettes representing only 4 per cent of all cigarettes sold to adults in Canada.
“Many young people believe flavours like menthol, bubble gum and cherry are less harmful because they‘re easier to inhale. So they experiment with all these flavoured products and before they know it, they’re hooked. Banning all flavoured tobacco is an important public health measure to protect our youth and reduce the highest youth smoking rates in Canada,” says Donna Pasiechnik, Manager, Tobacco Control, Media & Government Relations Canadian Cancer Society.
The survey also found that more than half (53 per cent) of young tobacco users reported using a flavoured product. Health groups have been providing evidence-based information to the Saskatchewan government about flavoured tobacco use and youth for over two years. Other provinces, including Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, are taking action to ban flavoured products to protect their youth.
“Evidence and experience have proven that programs and education alone do not have a sufficient impact on youth smoking rates. The province could continue to invest millions of dollars into these programs, but if we don’t have the required policies in place to protect our youth, we are not going to see necessary changes”, says, Natalie Gierman, Director Health Policy and Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Public support for a ban on flavoured tobacco is high. A recent Ipsos Reid poll in Saskatchewan found that 81 per cent of Saskatchewan residents support legislation to ban fruit and candy flavoured tobacco, including 63 per cent of people who smoke.
“The public understands the need to protect young people from the predatory marketing practices of the tobacco industry. The Ministry needs to act on best practices in tobacco reduction, otherwise we will continue to see the tobacco industry ‘sweet talking’ our young people, enticing them with flavoured products in order to gain addicted customers for life” says Jennifer Miller, Vice-President of Health Promotion for The Lung Association of Saskatchewan.
In Canada, many categories of tobacco products are heavily flavoured, including cigarillos (little cigars), water pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco and menthol cigarettes. Flavours include chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, strawberry, and other fruit and candy flavours that are appealing to youth. The federal Tobacco Act currently prohibits flavours in cigarettes, cigarillos and blunt wraps, with an exception for menthol. Cigarillos are defined as cigars weighing 1.4g or less or having a cigarette filter. However, many tobacco companies have avoided this definition by increasing the weight to more than 1.4g, which allows them to continue to add flavours to the product.
In 2010, Saskatchewan adopted the Tobacco Control Amendment Act, 2010 to establish regulatory authority to restrict or prohibit flavoured tobacco products.
“Unlike most other provinces, our government already has the legislation in place that would allow banning flavoured tobacco; however, this part of the legislation has not yet been proclaimed. We strongly urge the government to stand up for our youth and take action now,” says, Lynn Greaves, President of the Saskatchewan Coalition for Tobacco Reduction.
The public can support this movement in Saskatchewan by sending a message to their MLA atwww.takeaction.cancer.ca