TORONTO – They come in sweet flavours, such as strawberry, chocolate and watermelon, and in bright packaging that looks like lip gloss or markers for kids. Flavoured tobacco use among high schoolers is picking up, a Canadian Cancer Society report is warning.
Fifty per cent of teens who have already picked up smoking are turning to flavoured tobacco products, according to new polling numbers released by the national organization.
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“Most parents have no idea that these products exist. They’re very surprised when they see them for the first time,” Rob Cunningham, the society’s senior policy analyst, told Global News.
“The thing about flavoured tobacco is it makes it easier for kids to start – it’s like tobacco with training wheels. This issue of flavoured tobacco products didn’t exist a dozen years ago but they’ve exploded in popularity.”
Yet there isn’t any federal or provincial legislation to keep these gateway products out of teens’ hands. Banning sales to minors doesn’t seem to be working, Cunningham said.
READ MORE: Candy and Kool-Aid share same chemicals as flavoured tobacco, study suggests
The cancer society collaborates with the University of Waterloo and Health Canada for its Youth Smoking Survey that’s conducted every two years. This time around, students participated between November 2012 and June 2013.
About 137,000 high school students across Canada said they’d tried fruit and candy flavoured tobacco.
Twelve per cent of high schoolers smoked cigarettes – that’s 174,500 students.
They’re tobacco products like water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and menthol cigarettes that students are testing out.
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 around 1.5 grams.
READ MORE: Candy-flavoured tobacco products enticing Canadian students to take up smoking, survey says
Ideally, Ottawa and provincial governments would create legislation banning flavoured products, Cunningham said. So far, Alberta is the furthest along – in December 2013, it said it would ban flavoured tobacco – including menthol. Ontario and Manitoba also have laws in the pipeline, while Quebec and Nova Scotia have said it’s a possibility.
The rates are within the same range across Canada – it was the highest in Quebec, though.
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. There, smoking is banned for anyone under 21 – in Canada, depending on the province, the legal age is 18 or 19.
Meanwhile the European Union is working on banning menthol-flavoured tobacco products.
Read the full report here.