Shisha tobacco should be banned, doctors say

The federal government should ban all flavoured tobacco products, including shisha tobacco used in hookah pipes, a group of doctors who want a smoke-free Canada said Tuesday.

Canada urged to do more to reduce tobacco's appeal among young

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada wants the federal government to ban the sale of shisha tobacco, a product that is smoked in a water pipe, and all other flavoured tobacco products. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)

Tobacco control laws should be extended to cover shisha tobacco and other products that don't fall under existing Canadian legislation, a group of doctors said Tuesday.

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada called on the federal government to do more to reduce the appeal of smoking, especially among young people.

In 2009, the government  amended the Tobacco Act to ban the sale of mini-cigars, called cigarillos, in packages of fewer than 20, the sale of flavoured cigarillos, blunt wraps and cigarettes, and to ban print advertising of tobacco products.

Dr. Atul Kapur, president of the physicians group, said the amendments didn't go far enough and tobacco companies are taking advantage of loopholes.

He told a news conference on Parliament Hill that companies have modified their products and packages so they are technically in accordance with the law while still selling products the government aimed to ban.

For example, some companies have simply expanded the size of their products from mini-cigars to cigars and added flavours to them because cigars aren't covered by the law, Kapur said.

"Labelling is also an issue," he said, adding that some tobacco products sold to Canadians have no health warnings and don't meet minimum international standards. "This lax way of labelling downplays the deadliness of the products."

Doctors say law doesn't go far enough

He also said the 2009 legislation didn't address the use of shisha tobacco or flavoured chewing tobacco, although these also pose addiction and health risks. Shisha tobacco comes in a variety of fruit and other flavours and is smoked with a device called a hookah pipe.

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada wants all flavoured tobacco products banned, including shisha, because of their appeal to young people. Shisha, flavoured chewing tobacco and other flavoured products are sold with no warning labels, or with small ones, leading the public to believe they are not as dangerous as cigarettes, the group said.

"If Health Canada required these products to carry large health warnings like those on cigarettes, kids would be more likely to understand how harmful these products are," Kapur said. 

The group made its plea for more government action during National Non-Smoking Week.

"There is no safe level of tobacco use," Dr. Euan Swan of the Canadian Dental Association said at the news conference.

Health Canada says on its website that the 2009 law only applied to mini-cigars, cigarettes and blunt wraps because they represent a significant part of the flavoured tobacco market. This "sends an important message to tobacco manufacturers that marketing tobacco to youth will not be tolerated," the department said.

"Health Canada will continue to monitor emerging trends of other tobacco products and take action in the future when warranted."

A spokesman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Health Canada is not considering a ban on shisha at this time. Steve Outhouse also provided a statement on behalf of the minister that said the Conservatives have introduced some of the toughest health warnings in the world.

"The new rules created by our government have made it tougher for companies to target youth with tobacco," Aglukkaq said in the statement.