New Brunswick's Health Minister,
the Hon. Michael Murphy, has recently proposed legislation that would come to
ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products in the province. Focused on the
perceived threat of flavoured cigarillos in the marketplace, Bill 48 (An Act
to Amend the Tobacco Sales Act) is unfortunately void of any meaningful or
real understanding of the products, the market and/or the industry in
question. Bill 48, which is currently up for Second Reading in the Legislature
- is completely leveraged on what is arguably tantamount to a serious
misrepresentation of the facts.
"The push to ban flavoured little cigars / cigarillos is an orchestrated
attack spearheaded by a handful of anti-tobacco extremist groups in Canada,
that have since found unsuspecting support and leverage among well-meaning but
critically misinformed youth organizations, national health agencies and
politicians across the country", says Luc Martial (in charge of government
affairs with Casa Cubana and formerly with the Non-Smokers' Rights
Association, the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health, the National
Clearinghouse on Tobacco and Health, and the Tobacco Control Programme at
Health Canada). "These attacks are purely about hate, not health - about fear,
not fact", says Mr. Martial. "From a rational, expert-based tobacco control
standpoint, banning flavoured little cigars / cigarillos is simply
ill-conceived public health policy that will likely come to cause greater,
irrevocable harm to our society. This is a minors' access issue, not a product
design issue". More to the point, international health authorities have long
argued that "prohibition", the banning of legal product and/or supply-side
interventions have never had any proven effective impact on reducing minors'
access to age-restricted (e.g. alcohol, gambling, tobacco) and or illegal
products (marijuana, cocaine, etc.).
As importantly, at a time in our history when legitimate jobs and
government revenues are at a premium, any politician or government that would
propose anti-business legislation based on less than all of the facts is
simply acting in a publicly irresponsible, unaccountable and detrimental
In terms of some actual facts about little cigars / cigarillos, the use
of flavours in tobacco and the market in New Brunswick:
- There are thousands of different cigar products sold worldwide,
manufactured in a multitude of shapes, sizes and packaging formats. The
cigarillo is a longstanding and well recognized subcategory of
traditional (large) cigars, well established within the international
trade for more than half of a century.
- The use of flavoring agents in tobacco dates back, in some instances,
more than 100 years. Some historical examples identified through U.S.
trademark registrations include: Apple (1905), Peach (1905), Wild
Cherry (1910), Strawberry (1922), Butterscotch (1945), Mint and menthol
(1971), Wild Blueberry (1971).
- The exact same flavours found in little cigars / cigarillos sold in New
Brunswick (and across Canada), which seem to be the point of contention
and source of outrage among anti-tobacco groups and some politicians,
are found in a much greater quantity and much wider variety of alcohol
products approved for sale by the government of New Brunswick (and
every other Canadian government). For example, the government of
New Brunswick approves 19 different alcohol beverages for sale which
are flavoured Strawberry; 7 different alcohol beverages which are
flavoured Peach; 14 different alcohol beverages which are flavoured
Raspberry; 7 different alcohol beverages which are flavoured Cherry; 12
different alcohol beverages which are flavoured Grape and 3 different
alcohol beverages which are flavoured Chocolate.
- Flavoured cigarillos account for less than 0.5% of all tobacco products
sold and consumed every year in Canada. They are regulated by the same
federal and provincial laws which apply to every other tobacco product.
- The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS) - an annual survey
conducted by Statistics Canada and Health Canada, and the best
yardstick for measuring tobacco consumption and mapping smoking
behavior in our country - clearly confirms that in New Brunswick, the
vast majority (90%) of those who consumed a little cigar / cigarillo
(plain or flavoured) in the last 30 days were of legal age to do so;
the vast majority (80%) were over the age of 20 and the majority (60%)
were over the age of 25. To suggest that this is a product that was
designed to target children and/or which only children would ever
consume (because of the flavours) is simply unjustified.
- Are minors getting illegal access to flavoured cigarillos?
Unfortunately, yes. But it is important to note that these minors are
getting much greater illegal access to (non-flavoured) cigarettes,
gambling and alcohol products - yet no one is calling for a ban on any
of these products as a way to stop kids from consuming them.
The government's proposal to arbitrarily ban flavoured little
cigars/cigarillos is completely irresponsible because:
1. The government has never undertaken any comprehensive research on (1)
what specific products are actually being consumed by minors (whether
they are flavoured or plain; which specific flavours they consume,
etc.); (2) in which packaging formats they are being
purchased/obtained; (3) in what quantities/frequencies they are being
consumed and/or (4) where these products are being accessed (source of
2. The government has not publicly identified any specific health
objective which will supposedly be achieved by banning these flavoured
products and has not committed to monitoring the impact of such a ban
on youth uptake / smoking.
3. Banning these products would have no effective impact on minors'
access to tobacco products. More to this point, health authorities and
governments have long argued the ineffectiveness of banning legal
tobacco products - especially as it pertains to addressing minors'
4. Banning these products would actually fuel demand on the growing black
market - encouraging an environment in which much more, much cheaper
and less controlled tobacco products would eventually find their way
into the hands of the very kids the government says it wants to
5. Banning these products would come to throw away millions of dollars in
current legitimate government revenues - by essentially granting
exclusive market control of these flavoured products to a waiting
underground network. According to the RCMP, the underground network
services 30% - 50% of the domestic tobacco market in Canada. Of
relevance to this matter, law enforcement agencies across Canada have
long ago acknowledged that they cannot stop, let alone control this
network. Recent information released by the RCMP clearly confirms that
the illicit tobacco trade presents a serious threat to public safety
and health in Canada. According to the RCMP, there are currently 105
organized crime groups of various levels of sophistication known to be
involved in contraband tobacco. More troubling is that 69% of these
criminal networks are also involved in drug trafficking (marijuana /
cocaine) and/or weapons trafficking. 30% of these criminal groups,
according to the RCMP, are also known to have violent tendencies.
6. Banning these products would have no impact on those individuals
currently breaking the law in New Brunswick by furnishing tobacco
products to kids (e.g. black market, friends, family members, peers).
7. Banning these products would undermine the rights of legitimate
business operators across New Brunswick who have been responsibly
servicing the legal age market - and who have every financial
incentive to ensure that kids do not get access to these products.
8. Banning these products would undermine the rights of tens of thousands
of legal age consumers who have made the decision to consume these
legal tobacco products.
The pressing issue before us, if this is indeed the case, is one of
product access, not product design, pricing or packaging. A more measured,
justified, effective and accurate response would be to:
1. Request that Health Canada (through CTUMS) specifically and
comprehensively surveys the market for flavoured tobacco products in
Canada. This necessary data could then be accountably reviewed and
analyzed by the government of New Brunswick - in support of truly
meaningful, effective and fair policy consideration;
2. Introduce a youth possession law in New Brunswick (as currently exists
in the provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia). Strict fines and
penalties would either be issued to minors (directly) or to legal
guardians and parents. A youth possession law, as an integral
component to the province's tobacco control strategy, is sorely
needed. Such a law would lend credibility and communicate a
sustainable message to kids and parents. More to this point, such a
law would penalize those parents who currently condone their
children's involvement in breaking the law (i.e. illegally acquiring
tobacco) and would empower those legal guardians and parents who wish
to effectively end their child's access to such products; and
3. Develop youth-specific education campaigns on the subject of access to
tobacco and smoking - that would equally address the issue of parental
consent, and illegal supply sources (e.g. friends, family, peers).
Established in 1998, Casa Cubana is a Montreal-based importer of premium
and value brand cigar products across Canada. With more than 450 cigar
products in its catalogue, the company services over 10,000 direct retail
clients across the country. In New Brunswick, Casa Cubana has more than 230
wholesale/retail partners. Casa Cubana is the exclusive distributor of Prime
Time flavoured cigarillos.