One government change and Big Tobacco’s effort to sidestep menthol cigarette ban goes up in smoke

Posted on June 01, 2015, 8:48 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Young cigarette smokers. Youthful menthol smokers in Alberta may not appear exactly as illustrated, although it’ll stunt their growth just the same. Below: Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and former health minister Stephen Mandel.

HALIFAX, N.S.

What next? Apparently Alberta’s NDP government is now making decisions based on the best interests of the province’s citizens!

One wonders where this sort of thing could lead? Here in Nova Scotia, for example, a ban on flavoured cigarettes went into effect yesterday – The Horror! The Horror! – and Big Tobacco has vowed to take the battle to block the prohibition to the courts.

sarah-hoffmanI guess you could argue that banning menthol in cigarettes – along with a variety of other flavours that make it easy for young people to get hooked on smoking – isn’t in the interests of Albertans. I’m sure I heard a tobacco industry spokesperson trying to say just that on the radio the other morning in Edmonton.

Just the same, it seems reasonable at least to believe that the announcement yesterday by Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman to the effect the minty flavouring would be made illegal in cigarettes along with other fruity flavours was done because the government is now making decisions based on what it thinks is in the best interest of Albertans.

What’s more, if you begin with Ms. Hoffman’s proposition that “we don’t want young people to start using tobacco,” then it’s pretty hard to argue against a ban on menthol and other flavourings.

The really interesting question is not whether mentholated coffin nails are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing – that’s pretty well established – but why Alberta’s previous Progressive Conservative governments never seemed to get around to doing anything about it.

Former PC health minister Stephen Mandel, for example, left menthol off the list when the Tories agreed to a ban on most other tobacco flavourings. That policy officially starts today in Alberta, but doesn’t really come into effect for another four months so that merchants have an opportunity to sell off their inventory. In Nova Scotia, retailers are complaining bitterly that they weren’t given enough time to sell their leftover flavoured smokes to teenagers.

Mr. Mandel responded at the time to questions about the decision not to include menthol in the ban by saying it would be unfair to old people because they’re used to smoking mentholated cigarettes.

MandelAccording to Ms. Hoffman yesterday, though, this isn’t very likely, seeing as only 4 per cent of adult smokers use menthol cigarettes – while more than a third of teens just taking up the habit do.

Regardless – and whether or not this would have made any difference is unclear – it’s certainly true that Big Tobacco was one of many industries that put a lot of effort into lobbying the previous government and, for reasons that seemed pretty sensible at the time, ignored the NDP.

They had better connections in the Wildrose Party, though, just in case. Alert readers will recall former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s previous work for three right-wing AstroTurf groups that shilled for the tobacco industry. Under her leadership the party opposed bans on all candy-flavoured tobacco.

Such circumstances may explain the phenomenon reported recently in the blogosphere of major and not-so-major lobbying firms scooping up almost anyone they can find with a hint of orange, no matter how faint, about them. My blogging colleague Dave Cournoyer’s account of this was so accurate and detailed it soon showed up almost word for word in a newsletter that charges subscribers for such not-so-exclusive information!

Mind you, it’s not only tobacco lobbyists that made this kind of mistake. I can recall a well-known anti-tobacco lobbyist not so long ago disdaining my advice to leak a (tobacco) juicy story to the Dippers, not the Alberta Liberals. (Who they? – Ed.)

This situation may also explain the goings on in other industries. Bitumen extractor Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., for example, which has had a pretty comfortable relationship with previous PC governments, seemed to be acting last week as if it were contemplating a capital strike in Alberta if the new government won’t start acting like the old one, which is to say like a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil industry.

Well, that, as the Globe and Mail suggested, may not turn out to be very savvy government relations, but then, as we were just saying, there aren’t that many government-relations types around with experience dealing with NDP governments, whose personnel won’t necessarily ask how high when a corporation orders them to jump.

Well, I’m rambling. Let’s get back to the topic of tobacco.

Alberta’s New Democrats may also want to give some thought to who is representing the province in that effort launched by the Redford Government to recover $10 billion from several tobacco companies for the costs of treating former smokers for various maladies.

There’s some background in Briefing Note AR3999, the one that’s never been made public but which is said to explain how the Redford Government chose a legal firm that employed Alison Redford’s ex-husband to represent it in the case. Presumably that document didn’t accidentally go into the shredder with all the other stuff.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

5 Comments to: One government change and Big Tobacco’s effort to sidestep menthol cigarette ban goes up in smoke

  1. June 1st, 2015

    One of the most important bits of this: this was a move long recommended by non-partisan members of the civil service who had extensively looked into the research on the issue, and the PCs had refused to move on it. So what this really signals is not the personal preferences of the new Health Minister, but a commitment to something that the NDP promised during the election: evidence-based policymaking.

    Reply
  2. Francis

    June 1st, 2015

    >>Smoking deaths in Canada per year approx. 40,000 (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/legislation/label-etiquette/mortal-eng.php) {listen today on radio the Imperial Tobacco
    flacks and others whining about menthol, minors, smuggling, they really care about smokers….}
    >> Alcohol – a few issues http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Drug-Summary-Alcohol-2014-en.pdf
    >> All drugs abuse is a public health issue and need to be addressed as such. Ban, re-classify all you want. If we do not work on prevention and treatment, we are literally pissing in the wind.

    Tobacco companies are almost unique though in how they try to get children to start one of the most addictive and harmful drugs available anywhere, and it is enhanced with sugary flavours and chews to draw more customers in. When they come out and say they care about smuggling and kids….please spare us.

    Complete prohibition does feed criminal gangs, we see that every day. A partial ban won’t end this but makes the bait taste a little rougher – may catch less fish.

    Thank you David for the extended coverage and links.

    Will we sue Bees for all the honey?

    We all need to grow up and learn to take care of our children and loved ones affected by addictions, but they do need services and tools to escape those addictions.

    Reply
  3. Mark

    June 1st, 2015

    Perhaps we should actually do the right thing and just say no altogether. (I smoke, I love smoking, but i would be ok with it).

    Reply
  4. Jerrymacgp

    June 2nd, 2015

    Tobacco is just about the only legal product that is hazardous to health even when used exactly as intended. It is also the most significant contributor to shortened lifespans and chronic non-communicable diseases, which are the leading driver of increasing costs in the health care system. Anything short of outright prohibition (which we have seen doesn’t work) is justified.

    Reply
    • Mark

      June 3rd, 2015

      Why doesn’t it work? Perhaps we just lack to moral turpitude to take it up.
      Or are we just enabling the slavery of our kin.

      Reply

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