Alberta teens have smoked cigarettes today...
Alberta youth aged 12-19 smoke 530,000 cigarettes every day. Here's how you can help prevent youth smoking in Alberta.

Twitter Feed


Lloyd students speak out against flavoured tobacco


All News Articles

Sunday, 17 June 2012 13:13

Pressure on to snuff out smoking: Province struggles with rising use

by Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald

CALGARY - On a sunny Calgary day, Ammar Kamran and Leandra Remedios take advantage of the warm weather to skateboard at Shaw Millennium Park.
Ammar Kamran, 26, started smoking when he was 16 and now is up to a pack-a-day habit. He would like to see a total tobacco ban.

As he helps steady Remedios on the board, 26-year-old Kamran lets a cigarette dangle in his mouth, part of a pack-a-day pastime that started with the occasional cigar when he was 16. Remedios, a 23-year old accounting student, isn’t impressed by her boyfriend’s habit.

She’s tried to help him quit, purchasing nicotine patches, gum and electronic cigarettes in a so-far fruitless effort.

With the Alberta government about to unwrap a new anti-smoking strategy, Remedios knows what she would like to see.

“I think they should totally ban it,” she said.

Kamran, a geologist who attests that he’s not ready to quit, pipes up in surprising agreement. “That way it would stop,” he said.

A full-scale prohibition on tobacco products in Alberta isn’t in the works.

But the Redford government is under pressure to get better results when it releases its tobacco plan this month, a decade after its original anti-smoking strategy.

While details remain sketchy, restrictions on flavoured tobacco, greater enforcement around sales, and new anti-tobacco education and marketing efforts are expected to be key components of the blueprint.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta bucked the national trend and saw the overall rate of smokers increase in 2010.

Almost one in five Albertans over the age of 15 smoked. The biggest jump was among smokers ages 15 to 19, increasing to 17 per cent from 12 per cent — a provincial rate second only to Saskatchewan.

What burns critics the most is the province saw smoking rates among those 12 to 19 years old reach 13 per cent, again missing its target of reducing that figure to 10 per cent.

With those stats — and a growing burden from smoking-related chronic diseases such as cancer, lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the Progressive Conservative government is taking heat from anti-smoking groups.

Pack-a-day smoker Ammar Kamran says the best way to stop kids from starting the smoking habit is to stop selling cigarettes.

They want Premier Alison Redford to live up to her campaign promises in the spring election, including a vow to hike tobacco taxes.

For those on the front lines in the battle against cigarettes, the chief culprit behind the smoking uptick is a tobacco industry desperate to retain market share.   

Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, believes the industry is targeting kids through initiatives such as flavoured products — something the industry rejects.

“You produce products with the kids’ favourite flavours, like cherry and grape and mint and peach... why would you take one of the most harmful products on the planet and put it in all the kids’ favourite candy flavours?” Hagen said.

A recent study by the Lung Association of Alberta and the Northwest Territories showed 16 per cent of junior high school students used flavoured tobacco products, with four in 10 smokers choosing flavoured cigars or cigarillos, followed by menthol cigarettes and flavoured smokeless tobacco.

The movement of major Canadian cigarette companies into discount tobacco over the past decade is also seen as a play for younger smokers, the most price-sensitive of potential customers.

While Alberta’s $5-per-pack tobacco tax is in the middle of provincial rates, anti-smoking advocates argue the high income levels in the province make our cigarettes the most affordable in the country.

“We do have tobacco products that aren’t very costly when you compare it to the income kids get if they work,” agreed Barb Olsen, director of addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services.

Olsen said the industry has been aggressive and youths still have a great deal of access to product information through the Internet, despite severe restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion since 2003.

She acknowledges there has also been a lag in the province’s own anti-tobacco efforts.

“We did fall down a little bit with our changeover to Alberta Health Services. There was a bit of a time where we weren’t able to do as much market awareness and social marketing with that demographic. So we’re working on catching up with that in this next year and engaging more of the kids in the schools,” Olsen said.

While specific details about Alberta’s new strategy are elusive, Health Minister Fred Horne has dropped a few clues about what the new anti-tobacco plan will involve.

Horne has confirmed it will include proclaiming Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s bill that bans smoking in vehicles where children under 18 are present.

The minister has also acknowledged he is eyeing the possibility of a ban on public shisha smoking in the province’s hookah lounges.

Separately, the Tories have launched a $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recover smoking-related health costs.

“Some of the proposed actions in the strategy you will soon see include more tobacco prevention programs in schools, further measures to reduce second-hand smoke exposure, creating a provincial tobacco licensing system and expanding support for tobacco cessation,” Horne said at the lawsuit announcement.

In an interview, Horne said there will be a focus on flavoured tobacco products, but wouldn’t say whether a ban is in the offing.

On the concept of a provincial licensing system — perhaps akin to regulations around liquor sales — he remained coy.

“There’s a number of ways to go about it, right, if you’re looking at the retail level. You can look at enforcement, you can look at a separate system that actually licenses people to sell the product so you could have more scrutiny around that,” he said.

But Hagen said the government already has a road map for its anti-tobacco strategy — a survey of party leadership candidates during the spring campaign by the Campaign for a Smoke-free Alberta.

“I’ll tell you in one sentence what they need to do. They need to follow through on Alison Redford’s commitments,” Hagen said.

In the survey, Redford said she supports the passage of legislation to reduce sales to minors, the removal of candy flavourings from tobacco, a ban on smoking in vehicles with minors, a lawsuit against the tobacco industry and — most notably — higher tobacco levies.

“I support higher taxes on tobacco products and improved anti-contraband measures as part of a comprehensive anti-smoking plan,” Redford said in her written response.

The government has made clear, however, that a tax hike won’t be part of the new strategy and no increase will be soon forthcoming. The last hike was $3 per carton in 2009.

Redford’s press secretary, Kim Misik, said the premier campaigned on the spring provincial budget and its commitment of no tax increases of any sort for three years.

Misik said Redford recognizes that higher tobacco taxes play a role in deterrence. “That’s why we raised taxes a few years ago. However, it’s not part of the plan right now,” she said.

But Hagen said Redford’s promise was clear and without an increase of around $2 a pack, the government’s anti-tobacco strategy is “doomed to fail.”

“Without tobacco tax increases, we are fighting youth smoking with one hand tied behind our back,” Hagen said.

Of Canada’s three largest tobacco companies — Imperial Tobacco Canada, JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. — only one returned multiple messages from the Herald.

Rothmans’ director of corporate affairs, Chris Koddermann, said he couldn’t speak to the government’s strategy since it hadn’t been made public.

“We support reasonable, evidence-based measures to reduce smoking incidents and prevent people from starting,” Koddermann said.

“We don’t market our products to youth.”

While the debate rages over the government’s strategy, young smokers have their own thoughts on what should be done.

Samantha Gardiner started smoking at 15, she said, because it gave her a “body high and I enjoyed it.”

Now 20 and pregnant, she is slowly quitting, down to smoking one pack a week.

Gardiner thinks more education on the dangers of smoking is key, with beefed-up warning labels, advertising and outreach to schools.

“They need to be more vocal about it,” she said. “It is an addiction and it causes your body harm in the long run.”

Kamran, the young geologist, notes high prices and hard-hitting messaging does influence non-smokers like his girlfriend.

But even Remedios, who’s vehemently opposed to smoking, admits she once bought a pack of grape-flavoured cigarillos to share with a friend.

“One time she started smoking those and I took that pack away from her and I smoked it. And I told her, never, ever buy that again,” Kamran said.

“The best way to stop kids from starting smoking is to stop selling smokes.”
ash-logo canadian-cancer-society Alberta Blue Cross apccp lung-association heart-stroke public-health