Health groups respond to Minister’s comments on menthol flavoured tobacco

20 October 2014

Edmonton -

A coalition of prominent health organizations is very concerned that menthol maybe excluded from Alberta’s ban on flavoured tobacco following comments by Health Minister Stephen Mandel in a Canadian Press story today.

“Menthol is the most popular tobacco flavour among youth in grades 6 through 12,” said Angeline Webb with the Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division. “Exempting menthol from a ban on tobacco flavourings will leave thousands of Alberta children without protection.” 

“Alberta youth deserve first-class protection from tobacco industry products,” said Webb. “A menthol exemption will only provide cigarette companies like Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans with first-class protection from a flavourings ban. Any legitimate ban on flavoured tobacco must include a ban on menthol flavoured products. For these reasons, our coalition will not support a flavour ban that exempts menthol.”

The latest national Youth Smoking Survey revealed that 6,500 Alberta schoolchildren are smoking menthol cigarettes. Studies from Canada and around the world have discovered that menthol increases smoking initiation and nicotine addiction among youth. Menthol soothes the throat, opens the airways and increases nicotine absorption into the bloodstream. Youth who smoke menthol cigarettes smoke 60 per cent more than their non-menthol smoking peers.

“From a public health perspective, menthol should be the first flavour to be banned – not the last” said Dr. Candace Nykiforuk with the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention. “If the goal of Bill 206 is to protect Alberta youth from tobacco use then menthol flavours must be banned. If menthol is exempted, more youth may be encouraged to switch to menthol flavoured products from other types of flavoured tobacco.  I can’t think of a more important role for the Alberta government than to protect kids from serious health hazards like menthol cigarettes.”

The coalition was very disappointed by the federal government’s recent decision to exempt menthol flavourings from its weak ban on select flavoured tobacco products.  At a recent health minister’s conference in Banff, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose revealed that the federal government is closing the loophole on flavoured cigarillos and creating another loophole for any tobacco product that is menthol flavoured. This decision was made after her own department released survey data showing that menthol is the most popular tobacco flavour among Canadian youth.

“The federal government caved in to the tobacco lobby and dropped the ball on menthol flavoured tobacco. This exemption will condemn thousands of Canadian youth to the death grip of tobacco dependence” said Les Hagen with Action on Smoking & Heath. “We urge the provincial government to stand up for Alberta youth and to close this loophole in our province. The Alberta government has a huge opportunity to provide Alberta youth with first-class protection from flavoured tobacco and we implore Premier Jim Prentice and his Cabinet to seize it.”

Bill 206 received almost unanimous all-party support in the Legislative Assembly last November and it has been awaiting final proclamation by Cabinet since that time.

“We urge the Premier and his Cabinet to proclaim Bill 206 immediately and with no exemptions. More than one-half of all youth tobacco users are using flavoured tobacco products – the government must intervene now” says Hagen. “Tobacco companies and their well-placed lobbyists should not take precedence over the health of Alberta youth.”  The tobacco industry has registered over 20 lobbyists to fight Bill 206 and other tobacco control measures.

Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of disability, disease and premature death in Alberta resulting in 3,000 deaths annually.

The Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta is a coalition of prominent health organizations who are working to reduce tobacco use in Alberta.

For more information, please contact
Angeline Webb
Senior Public Policy Advisor
Phone: 780-239-5295