A tobacco industry insider says a proposed ban on flavoured products in Alberta is based on an "outright lie."

The Government of Alberta supported a private members bill Thursday, Bill 206, that would ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products because health experts say they get young people hooked on smoking. The government also supported Bill 33, which would ban smoking in vehicles with anyone under the age of 16 and would also ban the use of water pipes in public areas.

The Calgary Eyeopener spoke with Luke Martial, who manages government affairs for Quebec-based tobacco wholesale company Casa Cubana, about the proposed ban and what it means for the tobacco industry.

"Bill 33 is actually an example of good public policy on tobacco," said Martial. "Now, it will be illegal for kids to actually have tobacco products on them and consume them. That's good public policy. Now, Bill 206 is an example of very bad public policy on tobacco, because Bill 206 is effectively leveraged on what are tantamount and outright lies."

At issue is the assumption that youth are more likely to start or continue smoking because of flavours in tobacco, he says.

"There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that if not for flavours in tobacco, kids wouldn't start or want illegal access to tobacco products," said Martial.

According to the 2012 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey — the agreed-upon benchmark for tobacco use in this country — Albertans who smoke or try smoking usually start by the age of 14.

The survey also shows more than half of students from grades 6 to 12 use flavoured tobacco products, and that is what has many public health advocates call for a ban on flavoured tobacco.

Illegal access should be focus of concern

While Martial says he doesn't disagree with the numbers, he does think the proposed ban is missing a larger issue — the fact that youth are illegally accessing tobacco at all. 

"It's not a product design issue, it's a product access issue," Martial said. "If you ban flavoured products, you're just going to have kids consuming unflavoured products in greater numbers."

For many in the tobacco industry, a ban on flavoured tobacco products — which Martial says are not targeted to youth but rather at customers of legal age — would be akin to banning flavoured alcohol simply because youth find the flavours more enticing than unflavoured hard liquor. 

Martial says the 2012 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey also highlighted a fact most public health advocates have been ignoring in the quest to ban flavoured products.

"[The survey] has always confirmed what we've been saying, that the vast majority of people who consume our products — which are flavoured little cigars like Primetime and Bullseye — 93 per cent of people who consume those products are of legal age to do so," he said. 

While the government is quick to track down companies when it comes time to collect taxes, Martial says they haven't been as quick to track them down for consultation on tobacco-control issues and have instead been relying on public health advocates for perspective.

"Truth in tobacco no longer matters, it's about popular public policy on tobacco," Martial said. "If the government supports Bill 206, they'll be supporting a bill that in no way understands the product that it's legislating against."