Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Canadian Anti-Smoking Group Attacking Casa Cubana for Flouting Flavored Tobacco Ban

According to a CTV article, the Canadian Cancer Society is attacking the tobacco industry - Casa Cubana in particular - for flouting a new tobacco law that bans flavored cigarettes and small cigars.

The ban on flavored cigarettes and small cigars did not extend to larger cigars (more than 1.4 grams in weight). In addition, the ban only includes fruit flavorings, not menthol.

In response to the ban, Casa Cubana made some of its cigars larger so that they exceed the 1.4 grams weight limit and are therefore not subject to the flavoring ban. The Canadian Cancer Society has attacked Casa Cubana, arguing that the company is flouting the law.

According to the article: "Tobacco companies are being accused of skirting highly publicized federal legislation -- announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- designed to keep kids from getting hooked on flavoured cigarettes. Importers of those little cigarillos that come in flavours like vanilla, strawberry and peach have changed the size and characteristics on their product in order to get them in the country. One anti-smoking advocate describes it as a direct reaction to the law and an attempt to circumvent it. "It's a game of cat and mouse," according to Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society" ...

"The law defines little cigars as any product that weighs 1.4 grams or less and uses a cigarette filter. So the cigars are now slightly heavier and the filters are gone. Extra tobacco now fills in the spot where the filters used to be. Casa Cubana, a Montreal-based company that imports various brands, maintains its products remain legal because they do not qualify as "little cigars" under the new federal definition." ...

"Cunningham, the senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, says flavoured cigarillos didn't exist as a product in Canada 10 years ago, but that sales have skyrocketed.'For us it's absolutely unacceptable that you can flavour a tobacco product with fruit, ice cream and candy flavours to make it taste better and easier to smoke,' he said. Cunningham also complains that unlike cigarette packs that carry health warnings on both sides, the little cigar packages have warnings only on the back."

"But Luc Martial, who handles government affairs for Casa Cubana, says there's no research that proves flavoured cigars attract kids to smoking. If that were true, he says, the federal government could have simply banned flavoured tobacco. 'There is absolutely no proof -- in government or out -- that suggests kids start or continue smoking because of flavours," Martial said. ... He says statistics reveal that at its peak in 2009, the flavoured tobacco market in Canada represented less than half of one per cent of tobacco consumed in the country."

The Rest of the Story

It makes absolutely no sense for the Canadian Cancer Society to be complaining about the possibility that a few youths might be attracted to try flavored cigars when the Society supported legislation which exempted menthol cigarettes, which are being smoked by a huge proportion of Canadian youth, yet the Society does not suggest that these menthol cigarettes represent a problem.

How is it that Casa Cubana is flouting the law because it sells flavored cigars - which are exempt under the law - but Imperial Tobacco is not flouting the law because it sells flavored cigarettes (Peter Jackson Menthols) which are exempt under the law?

The truth is that Casa Cubana is not flouting the law, they are complying with it. And the only one who the Canadian Cancer Society has to blame for this is itself and the policy makers who enacted the law. If the intent was to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, then they should have prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products. They should have included all tobacco products, rather than exempted cigars. And they should have included menthol in the ban, since those are by far the most popular type of flavored cigarette used by youths and adults alike in Canada. In fact, they are the only type of flavored cigarette with any substantial market share.

I don't understand why anti-smoking organizations continue to complain when tobacco companies take actions that are in compliance with the law. The same thing occurred here in the United States when cigarette companies removed "light" brands from the market. They needed to identify these brands in some way so they used different colors. Anti-smoking groups promptly attacked them for flouting the law. But the truth is that they were complying with the law, and if it had been the intention of anti-smoking groups to get rid of "light" brands, then they should have done so.

You can't pass a law with truck-size loopholes and exemptions and then come back and attack the cigarette companies for complying with those exemptions. Why not actually show some courage and take the actions which will actually make a difference in the first place.

Clearly, what is going on in Canada is the same as in the States: anti-smoking groups and politicians are trying to make it look like they are doing something to reduce tobacco use, but they are actually working around the margins and taking politically easy actions which do nothing to substantially affect the cigarette market.

They are clearly interested in political victories, not making a major dent in youth smoking rates.

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