Flavoured tobacco fuels habit
TORONTO—Among Canadian teens who report using tobacco, more than half are opting for products infused with such flavours as bubble-gum, cherry, or watermelon, a study has found.
The University of Waterloo study, published yesterday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control journal, “Preventing Chronic Disease,” is based on the 2010-11 Youth Smoking Survey of Grade 9-12 students from across Canada.
Lead author Leia Minaker, a post-doctoral fellow at the university’s Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, said the tobacco industry promotes cigarettes, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco with a variety of flavours and glitzy packaging to attract young people to the addictive products.
Minaker said the danger of flavoured tobacco is that making it tastier makes it seem less like tobacco, so young people are more likely to take up the habit.
“If people are going to use tobacco, then it should taste like tobacco,” she said from Waterloo, Ont.
“It should be harsh smoke that they’re inhaling and should not be hidden in the flavours that are being added to the products.”
When Minaker picked up a package of grape-flavoured cigarillos to illustrate a talk she was giving on flavoured tobacco, she asked her five-year-old daughter to smell the product.
“And she said: ‘Oh, that’s delicious!’
“When you look at it, feel it, smell it, there is no question that these will be marketed to youth,” Minaker added.
“If tobacco use is really appealing for kids, then more kids will start to use tobacco,” she reasoned.
Ottawa’s Bill C-32 banned flavoured tobacco products weighing less than 1.4 grams, excluding menthol products, but Minaker said the industry has found a way around the law by slightly increasing their weight.
Several jurisdictions, including Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba, have penned legislation that would strengthen the prohibition against flavoured tobacco products, which Minaker called an important step in the goal of preventing young Canadians from getting hooked on nicotine.
A separate Waterloo University study, recently published in the journal, “Cancer Causes and Control,” found that young people who smoked menthol cigarettes were almost three times more likely to say they would continue the habit and also would puff more per day, compared to kids who smoked non-menthol brands.
“So if we said no more flavours at all, then likely that extra addiction to nicotine because of menthol and the speedier progression to full-blown regular tobacco use because of menthol wouldn’t be there anymore,” Minaker said.
Les Hagen, executive director of Alberta-based Action on Smoking & Health, said the findings from both studies have “huge implications for Canadian governments that are pursuing bans on flavoured tobacco.”
“To date, almost every proposed or approved law to ban flavoured tobacco has exempted menthol cigarettes under the mistaken belief that youth are not using these products in large numbers,” Hagen said yesterday via e-mail from Edmonton.
“This study confirms that menthol cigarettes are a starter product for youth.”