Cigarillos and flavoured cigarettes were being pulled from store shelves across Canada as the federal government's new tobacco legislation kicked in Monday.
Amendments to the Tobacco Act passed in 2009 add small cigars to existing tobacco regulations, making it illegal to sell them individually. They also ban the sale of tobacco products that contain flavours or certain additives. Menthol cigarettes are exempt from the legislation.
When Health Canada held consultations on changes to the Tobacco Act in 2008, it found cigarillos were growing in popularity among younger smokers. It also found that adding flavours such as fruit or chocolate to the tobacco induced youth to smoke.
"We need to be vigilant about new marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, and the flavouring of these cigarettes and little cigars is something new," said Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, in an interview with CBC.
'It's outrageous from a health perspective that you can have little cigars with cherry, mint, chocolate, vanilla flavours.' — Rob Cunningham, Canadian Cancer Society
"It's outrageous from a health perspective that you can have little cigars with cherry, mint, chocolate, vanilla flavours. Parents are shocked when they first learn of this."
The new legislation also aims to halt the growing trend of tobacco advertising appearing in entertainment and free publications read by young people by closing a loophole that allows the advertising in publications with a readership that is at least 85 per cent adult.
"It is unclear how and if a publication is required to demonstrate that adults comprise at least 85 per cent of its readership," noted a federal background paper on the legislation.
Skirting the law
In Montreal, at least one tobacco distributor has found a way to skirt the law.
Casa Cubana has begun producing a cigarillo that is slightly larger than the size the government determined constitutes a cigarillo.
Luc Martial with Casa Cubana believes companies such as his have been unfairly targeted by the legislation.
"[The fact that] 92 per cent of people who consume these products are of legal age to do so doesn't seem to matter to government," he said in an interview with CBC News.
'Compliance with these rules will be monitored and enforced in no uncertain terms.' — Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has said Casa Cubana is going against the intent of the law and that she'll work to close the loophole.
In a written statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauded the initiative and promised the law would be enforced.
"Compliance with these rules will be monitored and enforced in no uncertain terms," his statement reads. "Adherence to the spirit of the legislation will also be monitored, and, if necessary, the legislation will be revisited."
At the same time, the Canadian Convenience Store Association has released what it calls "irrefutable evidence" that shows tobacco and flavoured cigarillos are being sold to young people on native reserves in Ontario and Quebec.
One of two videos released Monday by the organization shows a 15-year-old girl visiting 10 tobacco shacks on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario. She is able to purchase tobacco products at eight of them with no difficulty and without being asked for identification.
The other video, shot on the Kahnawake and Kanesatake reserves in Quebec, shows the sale of tobacco products, including a range of flavoured cigarillos, at a fraction of the price they sell for at convenience stores, and without tax.
Both videos were shot last week using a hidden camera, according to the CCSA.
"For the first time, we are showing Canadians that the irresponsible large-scale selling of contraband tobacco on native reservations is nothing but a national disgrace caused and tolerated by the federal government," said CCSA senior vice-president Michel Gadbois.
The CCSA and an organization it formed called the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco are calling on the health minister to put the fight against contraband tobacco at the top of her priority list.