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‘It’s a sign we’re doing the right thing’: Province not deterred by Big Tobacco’s legal challenge to menthol ban

Halifax – Imperial Tobacco Canada said it has filed a legal challenge against Nova Scotia’s ban of menthol cigarettes, mere days before the ban is set to take effect, but the province said that does not scare them.

The ban was included in sweeping flavoured tobacco legislation passed this spring.

RELATED: Controversy surrounds possible menthol cigarette ban in Nova Scotia

“By prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes, the Government of Nova Scotia has stepped beyond its legislative authority, which leaves us no other choice than to bring this matter in front of the courts,” said Caroline Ferland, Vice-President of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at Imperial Tobacco, in a media release.

“The Nova Scotia government’s decision to default to knee-jerk regulation rather than fact-based regulation informed through meaningful public consultation will only exacerbate the already well-established legal tobacco problem in the province.”

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The Liberal government introduced flavoured tobacco legislation, including a ban on menthol cigarettes, in April after public consultation on the issue.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, Nova Scotia will be the first jurisdiction in the world to implement a ban on the sale of flavoured tobacco including menthol.

Barbara Stead-Coyle, the CEO of the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Cancer Society, was taken aback when she heard the news Thursday about the legal challenge.

“We are absolutely positively outraged by these bully tactics by Big Tobacco,” she said.

“This is nothing more than a scare tactic. They’re going to try and tie us up in red tape and we’re going to fight to the end because we know we’re on the side of what Nova Scotians want.”

Stead-Coyle said the Canadian Cancer Society has no plans to back down.

“We’ve hit [Big Tobacco] in the place where it’s going to hurt — their profits and their bottom line,” she said.

“We’re doing it because it’s going to protect our children in the future. We are calling on the government to stand strong on this commitment.”

Stead-Coyle said 34 per cent of youth smokers are smoking menthol cigarettes. The Canadian Cancer Society said menthol soothes the throat and reduces the harshness of cigarette smoking, thereby making it easier for youth to become addicted.

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Imperial Tobacco defends itself

Nadine Bernard, the manager of corporate affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada, defended the company’s actions to Global News Thursday.

Bernard said the company does not support legislation that isn’t fact and evidence-based.

But when pressed by Global News about how the province referred to data from a national smoking study, Bernard instead replied with how menthol cigarettes have been on the market for 80 years and are used primarily by the older demographic.

She said the company also does not want to see cigarettes in the hands of youth, but she does not think a ban is the solution.

“The issue is not menthol. The issue is how come youth have access to tobacco products so this is really the key here that we are willing to challenge,” Bernard said.

“In a society where cigarettes are a legal product, we are complying with over 200 regulations. This is really a legal market.”

Bernard said the company is concerned adult smokers will turn to the illegal market to purchase menthol cigarettes, saying the the ban unfairly targets adult smokers.

Province has no plans to back down

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief public health officer, said the move from Imperial Tobacco was fully expected.

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“This is standard Big Tobacco practice,” he said. “Any initiative around tobacco control, they either threaten or sue.”

“We know we’ve got their attention and. It’s a sign we’re doing the right thing.”

Strang said the legislation is meant to protect Nova Scotian youth and shoots down claims from Imperial Tobacco that the legislation was not steeped in fact.

“We have solid evidence and for the tobacco industry to say otherwise is completely false. Menthol is a significant driver in youth initiation to smoking. Youth use menthol products.”

Strang said the province will not be deterred by the legal challenge and is still prepared to move ahead with the ban.

“They’re trying to engage in a PR war. We fully anticipated the possibility of legal action and we’re prepared for that. We are confident and comfortable with the legislation and we’ll continue to move forward,” he said.

The company filed its challenge with the  Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

The ban is scheduled to come into effect on May 31.