Technology & Science

Teen smoking ban focus of Ont. private bill

An Ontario Tory MPP has introduced a private member's bill in Queens Park in Toronto that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 19 to smoke cigarettes.

An Ontario Tory MPP introduced a private member's bill in Queens Park in Toronto Wednesday that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 19 to smoke cigarettes.

Under existing laws, it's illegal to sell cigarette to children and teens, but strictly speaking, it's not against the law for youths to smoke or possess them.

Cambridge Conservative Gerry Martiniuk introduced a private member's bill in the legislature that will ban teens from possessing, consuming or attempting to purchase tobacco.

Martiniuk said current rules don't go far enough to stamp out the practice. Although the teen smoking rate is at an all-time low nationally, the figure is creeping higher in Ontario, Martiniuk said, because the availability of contraband cigarettes makes it easy for teens to find cigarettes.

"The youth smoking rate in Ontario is now growing because of easy access to cheap, illegal cigarettes," he said.

But even Martiniuk admitted the best course of action would be to lower taxes to eliminate illegal cigarettes.

"I am concerned with the low price of illegal tobacco, a problem which we are all aware is making smoking affordable for our young people to experiment with," he said.

"The sale of these illegal cigarettes is largely in the hands of organized crime, and they are targeting our young people."

A 2008 study by the Canadian Convenience Stores Association found that almost half of the cigarettes smoked in the province were contraband. Ontario's Auditor General found in a report that same year that the province fails to collect $500 million in tobacco taxes each year, largely due to contraband tobacco.

"We're fully committed to this job, but we shouldn't be the only line of protection. It makes no sense that Ontario has tougher restrictions on protecting youth from alcohol than it does for cigarettes," said Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.  "Especially when we know youth bans on youth smoking work."

Don't want to criminalize young people: minister

Similar laws on the books in Alberta, Nova Scotia, as well as in numerous U.S. states have proven effective, the group says.

"It's time for a total ban on youth purchasing, possession and use of tobacco. This is a no-brainer. It's time for this legislation," Bryans said.

Tobacco manufacturers have come under fire in recent months for allegedly flouting laws by marketing flavoured tobacco and cigarillo products to children and teenagers.

Although Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said his caucus is free to introduce legislation and vote freely on them, he does not endorse the bill himself.

Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best also indicated Wednesday the Liberal government would not back Martiniuk's bill.

"We want to ensure that they don't start to smoke in the first place, and we do not want to criminalize the young people. That is definitely not our intent," said Best.

"We want adults to take responsibility for ensuring that children are armed with the knowledge of how dangerous it is for them to smoke."

Private member's bills rarely become law in Ontario. The smoking ban seems unlikely to survive past a second reading since the ruling Liberal government has already signalled it will not support the legislation.