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Smoke-free alternative? Tobacco company opens flagship store in Edmonton

WATCH ABOVE: A tobacco company is opening what it calls its flagship store tomorrow in Edmonton. It's selling tobacco products, but they say it's not smoking and it's not vaping. As Vinesh Pratap reports, one anti-smoking advocate has a lot of questions.

A new tobacco retail outlet is set to open Friday in Edmonton amid concern from anti-smoking advocates.

The store is owned by Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. and instead of selling traditional cigarettes, the focus is on a new smoke-free product.

“The fundamental principle is we’re heating tobacco instead of burning it,” explains Peter Luongo, the managing director with Rothmans, Benson and Hedges.

An electronic device — a proprietary tobacco-heating system — is used in conjunction with small cigarette-style sticks filled with specialized tobacco.

READ MORE: How the vaping industry hooked a new generation of teens to nicotine 

“It does have nicotine,” Luongo said, adding, “It is addictive, but if you are a smoker, this is much better than continuing to use cigarettes.”

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“We would just encourage people to do their research.”

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Anti-smoking advocates are concerned — first, because the effects of the new alternative are not fully understood, and secondly, they’re worried about normalizing smoking against the ongoing push for cessation.

“We do not want tobacco around and lung disease around for another generation,” says Nina Snyder with The Lung Association.

READ MORE: Canada could soon put cancer warnings on individual cigarettes

According to Statistics Canada, smoking rates have actually increased, from 13 per cent of the population aged 15 and older in 2015 to 15 per cent of the population two years later.

“Because you don’t have smoke, you have far fewer chemicals,” Luongo said.

“And if you’re not going to quit altogether, this is a much better choice.”

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In opening the store, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges stresses its commitment to a smoke-free, though not tobacco-free, future where cigarettes are eventually replaced with alternatives.

READ MORE: Study says the more young people vape, the less they smoke

But for others, when it comes to choosing what to inhale, it comes down to one simple conclusion.

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“The Lung Association believes the only thing you should take into your lungs is fresh, clean air,” Snyder said.

Due to Health Canada rules, no external store signage is permitted for the store at West Edmonton Mall. And anyone under 18 won’t be allowed in.

As for in-store product testing, city bylaw does allow for testing of electronic cigarettes if a retailer has met the criteria laid out in the rules.

Complaints will be investigated.