Ontario's flavoured tobacco ban 'comprehensive,' says researcher

The Ontario government's move to ban flavoured tobacco, including menthols, could make the restrictions the most comprehensive in the country says a researcher.
This photo shows child-proof refill bottles of liquid nicotine. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

The Ontario government`s move to ban flavoured tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, would make the the province a leader in tobacco laws across the country, says a researcher with the University of Waterloo's School of Public Health.

"Menthol is the one flavour youth actually use. So about 30 per cent of youth smokers smoke a menthol brand, that's way more than adults," said David Hammond, who studies tobacco control policy and nutrition labelling. 

"It's kind of like having a ban on soda pop but saying, 'OK, Pepsi and Coke you're exempted.' So Ontario has said they will ban menthol in cigarettes and that may be one of the most high-impact things in this whole bill," he said in an interview with host Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Tuesday.   

The legislation announced Monday would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19. E-cigarettes would also be banned wherever smoking is already prohibited, as would a blanket ban on flavoured tobacco. 

"In theory, if this is implemented, you will see one of the most comprehensive bans on flavours, not just in cigarettes but in little cigars and these chewing tobacco and blunt wraps and all sorts of things," said Hammond. 

If the bill passes, the ban on sale to minors would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. The ban on using e-cigarettes in public places would come into effect a year later on New Year's Day. Menthol cigarettes will be eventually phased out.

"It's somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of kids that are also trying e-cigarettes. Now, most of those kids that are non-smokers try it once and that's pretty much it," he said. "It's still mainly smokers using these things, but there's no doubt kids are trying them," said Hammond. 

E-cigarettes don't contain tobacco and produce vapour instead of smoke, which proponents say helps smokers kick their habit. Some public health advocates say they're concerned that it's also "normalizing" cigarette smoking for minors, giving a dangerous habit that's widely restricted a whole new image.

"Basically e-cigarettes aren't quite as palatable, they don't create the same sort of dependence necessarily as cigarettes but they also don't deliver all the same carcinogens. That's not to say that they're safe," said Hammond. "But we know it's going to be a lot less harmful than cigarettes."

The government will also step up penalties for anyone caught selling e-cigarettes to anyone underage. And smoking tobacco of any kind will be banned on all outdoor patios — currently, it's only forbidden on covered patios.