More Chicken Little from Alberta Action on Smoking and Health

Today in the Edmonton Journal (Flavoured products a blatant ploy to target youth, Alberta anti-tobacco group declares) Keith Gerein wrote

New survey results indicating large numbers of Alberta teenagers are hooked on flavoured tobacco products is evidence enough that the province should immediately ban the items, medical professionals and advocates said Tuesday.

The supposed source for this statement was Health Canada’s 2010-2011 Youth Smoking Survey. To wit

Among youth who had ever tried smoking a cigarette, 30% (about 218,000) had used at least one flavoured tobacco product in the last 30 days, compared to only 1% (about 29,000 ) of youth who had never tried smoking a cigarette.

In my lexicon hooked is not quite the same as having tried something once in the last 30 days. Nor does this seem to be much of a problem if only 1% of non smokers try them (again maybe no more than once in the last 30 days).

Since smokeless tobacco, which as most who read this blog know, is about 99% safer than smoking, you can argue that 1. anytime those people who would have smoked used smokeless instead it was a good thing and 2. there is a chance that someone who might otherwise have become a smoker gravitated towards smokeless instead and ended up with the much less harmful habit. Of course no one wants the kids do be doing any of this – these are toys for adults.

One real problem with this survey is that the flavoured tobacco category conflated smokeless tobacco with menthol cigarettes and flavoured cigars. Considering the vast harm differences between inhaling and not inhaling smoke it would be no different than having a category consisting of e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes together.

I suspect that Gerein did not read the survey which would have lead to quite a different sort of headline since the findings are that smoking (and marijuana and other drug use, and alcohol use) declined for all the groups. Isn’t that headline worthy? We can’t tell about smokeless tobacco since this was the first time that use was polled.

The language throughout the article suggests it was cobbled together from a press release from Les Hagen given the antiquated but incendiary cliches the anti-nicotine groups like to use. “Fruity spit tobacco” leads off the old argument that tobacco companies are targetting youth through the use of flavours. I have always found the implication that adults don’t like flavours odd. Humans like flavoured products. In fact, one of the things a lot of adult smokers found quite attractive about e-cigarettes, and sealed the switch, was the variety of flavours.

According to the article the most commonly used flavoured tobacco product by Alberta youth were cigarrillos. This seems to occasion a ban on flavoured tobacco products in general (again lumping them with the vastly different smokeless products). The real worry then from a harm reduction perspective is that flavoured smokeless tobacco has been gaining popularity as an alternative for smokers, and as a cessation aid. As the case is with e-cigarettes, once you introduce an effective and satisfying alternative to smoking, if you then remove it, you are then encouraging people back into a riskier lifestyle choice.

If we are going to ban something, why not ban groups from using public money (money from you and me) to agitate for removing healthier alternatives from the market?

Finally, the Health Canada report found that almost all youth obtained their products through social sources. In other words these products are not being sold to minors. I worry that if kids start liking Pernod even if they all get it from their parents that high minders will argue that it should be removed from liquor stores.

On a lighter note, the SAIT student paper had a nice little article by Sarah Pynoo – Health Canada’s E-Cig restrictions deserve to go up in smoke.

As for the criticism that cigarettes could lead towards children and young adults getting hooked on actual cigarettes, it seems a bit silly. For one thing, while both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes have a variety of flavours, both are only available with ID to those over 18. Also, it’s pretty hard to imagine a kid getting hooked on candy-flavoured, nicotine-free vapour, and switching over to the harsh, lung-burning alternative of an actual cigarette.

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Comments

  • Paul Bergen  On April 8, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Guns do not belong in this discussion…1. this is Canada and we neither have nor misinterpret that First Amendment you have and 2.. this is about improving public health…kind of the opposite from maintaining or increasing the access to weapons.

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