Alberta government adds menthol to flavoured tobacco ban

WATCH ABOVE: In four months, it will be illegal to sell menthol-flavoured tobacco products in Alberta, said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman Sunday.

EDMONTON — In her first official news conference, Alberta’s health minister announced the government was adding menthol to the province’s flavoured tobacco ban.

“This is about protecting youth,” said Sarah Hoffman.

She said four per cent of adult smokers use menthol products while one-third of youth smokers do.

In November 2014, then-health minister Stephen Mandel announced the province’s flavoured tobacco ban law was to be phased in, but that law exempted menthol. Mandel said the legislation would still protect young people from the dangers of other flavoured tobacco. And even with the menthol exemption, he said Alberta will have “the strictest ban on flavoured tobacco in Canada.”

“We spoke against the legislation,” said Hoffman, “our MLAs in the house – they wanted to make sure that [menthol] was not exempted.”
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“I’m really proud of our government and the fact that we’re taking steps to correct decisions that we don’t think were in the best interests of Albertans.”

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Hoffman said businesses will have four months to clear their stocks of menthol tobacco products.

READ MORE: Alberta’s new tobacco law targets flavoured tobacco, but exempts menthol 

“They want to make sure that they can continue to be viable business and we want them to too, but the most important thing is we protect the health of Albertans and in particular of our youth and the research was very clear that this step needed to be taken to do so.”

The menthol ban will come into effect after Sept. 30, 2015.

On June 1, the sale of other kinds of flavoured tobacco will be banned in Alberta under the Tobacco Reduction Amendment Regulation. Cigars that cost more than $4 each and weigh five grams or more and pipe tobacco are exempt.

WATCH: Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced the government will be adding menthol to the province’s flavoured tobacco ban. Lisa Wolansky reports.

The former PC government decided that menthol wouldn’t be touched because the ban is aimed at reducing tobacco use by young people; and banning would also have affected adult smokers.

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Health, medical and anti-smoking groups said exempting menthol was a mistake, because the flavour is the most popular with young people.

“I’ve definitely received a lot of calls in the last seven days,” said the minister.

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One of the calls her office received was from someone representing the retailers.

“I think they were of the opinion that they knew this was likely to move forward and just wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to not lose money by having stock they weren’t able to sell.”

However, the Western Convenience Stores Association said Sunday small business owners were not consulted.

“This unilateral approach to decision making does not bode well for businesses across Alberta,” said Andrew Klukas, association president.

“All we wanted was a chance to speak to this government about the impact of their decision – on our stores and on community safety through the rise of illegal cigarettes. We were denied that chance.”

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“Convenience store owners and employees are on the front lines in the fight to stop tobacco getting into the hands of minors,” added Klukas. “We consider ourselves partners with the government on this issue. However this decision is like putting a welcome mat out for biker gangs and criminal organizations at Alberta’s borders,” said Klukas.

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“We encourage the NDP to put more resources towards the existing 10 per cent illegal tobacco rate in Alberta.”

READ MORE: Alberta convenience store owners leery about possibility of menthol tobacco ban

Ahead of Sunday’s announcement, The Western Convenience Stores Association spoke against adding menthol to the flavoured tobacco ban. It said lobbyists for health organizations were trying to shame the new NDP government into making it impossible for adults to buy menthol cigarettes. Association president Andrew Klukas said a ban would hurt the bottom line of stores, cost the government tax revenue and drive the sale of menthol tobacco underground.

“We cannot allow tobacco companies to dictate public health and health policy in Alberta,” said ASH executive director Les Hagen. “In other words, we must keep the fox out of the hen house.”

“There are 40,000 youth tobacco users in Grade 6 to 12 in Alberta and over half of them are using flavoured tobacco products,” he added.

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“The new regulations will keep thousands of Alberta youth out of the hands of the tobacco industry and free from the chains of nicotine addiction and the serious health risks of tobacco use.”

Coincidentally, Nova Scotia’s ban on the sale of flavoured tobacco products, which includes menthol, comes into effect Sunday. The ban is being challenged by Imperial Tobacco Canada.

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“I’m not surprised that a tobacco company that, when there’s decisions being made around reducing their ability to sell products, would be suing,” said Hoffman, “but I’m not concerned about it going forward.

“We know that this is the right decision.”

Hoffman said the government has discussed it with its legal counsel.

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