British Columbia

Menthol cigarette ban urged by Canadian Cancer Society

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging the federal government to impose a ban on menthol capsule cigarettes, a product new to the Canadian market.

Critics of the product are concerned new capsule cigarettes may entice children to smoke

Menthol capsule cigarettes have a liquid flavour capsule that, when squeezed, release flavour as users take a puff. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging the federal government to impose a ban on menthol capsule cigarettes, a product made by Rothmans Benson & Hedges, and new to the Canadian market.

Critics are concerned the cigarettes — which release a burst of flavour when the capsule in the filter is squeezed — will entice children to smoke.

"We're very concerned that these can be an attractive gimmick to entice kids," said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Alberta and Nova Scotia already have regulations in place that effectively ban menthol cigarettes, while governments in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec are currently working on legislation.

Menthol capsules

"The main issue is addiction," said Cunningham. "We don't have evidence that they're more likely to cause lung cancer but it means that there's going to be higher levels of smoking in terms of kids starting to a lifetime of smoking."

The emphasis on children is backed by numbers. According to Cunningham, 29 per cent of smokers in high school smoke menthol cigarettes, whereas for adult smokers it's only five percent.

Cunningham says the menthol can help new smokers get used to the harsh tobacco smoke by acting as a local anaesthetic and soothing the throat. Cunningham adds there is even fear the new product may discourage adults from quitting smoking.

"These menthol capsule products in other countries have been on the market for years and have been very popular in terms of increasing sales volumes," said Cunningham, who wants to prevent the same from happening in Canada.

Pushing for legislation

The Canadian Cancer Society is urging provincial governments that have not implemented a ban on flavoured tobacco, to start working on legislation as soon as possible. This would effectively ban the sale of menthol capsule cigarettes in those provinces. Cunningham says he and his colleagues are ultimately looking for a national ban on the product.

"The current Tobacco Act, nationally, is almost 2 decades old, adopted in 1997," he said. "This legislation needs to be modernized."

Smoking numbers among youth are down to 11 per cent among 15 to 19 year olds, and 18 per cent among 20 to 24 year olds, according to Cunningham. But he warns the tobacco industry is always trying to stay ahead of legislation with new products, new packaging, or new promotional strategies.

"We have to respond whenever they exploit loopholes or opportunities. That's why new beefy legislation is so important."

Rothmans Benson & Hedges, which is owned by international tobacco giant Philip Morris, stated in an email to the Canadian Press Wednesday, "all of RBH's products … are fully compliant with federal and provincial tobacco control regulations."

"All tobacco products in Canada contain large graphic health warnings, are not visible at point of sale and require age verification for purchase. Our products are not marketed, or made for sale, to anyone under the legal age, and we support strong legislation to ensure minors cannot purchase tobacco products."


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Canadian Cancer Society calls for ban on menthol capsule cigarettes. 

With files from Canadian Press

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