Candy-flavoured tobacco products enticing Canadian students to take up smoking, survey says

In this March 18, 2013 file photo cigarette packs are displayed for sale at a convenience store in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file

TORONTO – More than half of Canadian high school students say they’ve tried smoking flavoured tobacco products within the past month, new nationwide data suggests.

The Canadian Cancer Society and provincial organizations across the country are calling on health officials to ban these products for young smokers that come in bright packaging and flavours such as watermelon, chocolate or strawberry.

In the past 30 days, 52 per cent of high schoolers from grade 9 to grade 12 tried these products. That’s about 169,300 teens.

“There’s a series of flavoured tobacco products that are widely available and popular among youth and that are a big concern to us,” Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, told Global News.

“These flavours can lead to kids becoming addicted. We need to do everything we can to reduce underage tobacco use,” he said.

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Read the national report here.

They’re products like water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and menthol cigarettes. Right now, federal laws ban flavoured cigarettes except for menthol and blunt wraps and cigarillos, which are cigars weighing 1.4 grams or less. But tobacco companies have managed to find a loophole with cigarillos – instead, they produce flavoured cigars that are 1.5 grams or so.

“Menthol soothes the throat and reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke for youth who are experimenting,” Cunningham said.

Point the products out to adults and they won’t recognize them, he suggested. But kids are familiar with the flavoured tobacco products, which are readily available in convenience stores.

Some 32 per cent of teens tried menthol cigarettes in the past month – that product makes up only four per cent of cigarettes smoked.

This data from the Youth Smoking Survey revealed that 14 per cent of high school students smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, 20 per cent had used a tobacco product and 10 per cent used a flavoured product in the past month.

The rates are within the same range across Canada – it was the highest in Quebec with 59 per cent of high schoolers trying flavoured tobacco in the past month and lowest in Ontario at 46 per cent.

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Jurisdictions across the country released their individual provincial rates Monday.

Cunningham said he hopes health officials will follow in the footsteps of other jurisdictions that have banned these products.

In New York City, all flavoured tobacco products are banned outright, except for menthol. It’s the same in Rhode Island, he said.

Meanwhile the European Union is working on banning menthol-flavoured tobacco products.

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