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December 31st, 2016:

Flavoured tobacco ban looms

Menthol cigarettes, along with most other flavoured tobacco products, will no longer legally be sold in Ontario starting in the New Year.

Changes to the Smoke Free Ontario Act will result in the sale of clove cigarettes and most menthol-flavoured tobacco products being banned as of Jan. 1.

Klaus Larsen, a tobacco enforcement officer with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said the ban is the latest step in the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products.

“What statistics show is that young people are drawn to flavours,” Larsen said.

“What menthol does is cover the harsh flavour of tobacco products so we’re seeing it’s popular among those under the age of 25 and the ban will steer away the younger population from tobacco products.”

The first ban began last year on New Year’s Day and covered all flavoured tobacco products except for some flavoured cigars and a temporary one-year exemption for menthol and clove flavoured products, which is now expiring.

Larsen said the health unit has inspected vendors and have not found any compliance issues.

“The retailers tell us they’re still getting requests for the tobacco products and often times when the flavoured tobacco products are not available the customer will walk away from purchasing any tobacco product,” Larsen said.

One concern is more people switching to vaping, or e-cigarettes, to use flavoured products.

Larsen compared the current state of the vaping industry to “big tobacco” before governments began implementing regulations and restrictions.

“I think what’s been proven statistically is that vaping is less harmful than smoking but you have to remember that less harmful does not mean harmless,” he said.

“The other thing you have to remember is the fact that we don’t know what the long-term effect is of vaping.”

Oman health: Hike cigarette tax to cut down on smoking, says official

MUSCAT: Cigarettes prices should be doubled in Oman so they remain out of reach for most people, a senior official at the Ministry of Health said.

“A pack of cigarettes, which now costs OMR1, should be made OMR2, or more, so that people will think twice before buying them. And from the extra tax money we can build a hospital every year,” said Dr Jawad Al Lawati, senior consultant and rapporteur for the National Tobacco Control Committee at the Ministry of Health (MoH), speaking to Times of Oman.

Talking about his wishes for 2017, Dr Al Lawati said that tobacco taxes should be increased so cigarettes remain out of reach for most people.

About 14 per cent of Oman’s male population smokes, while 0.5 per cent of women smoke.

In September, Oman raised the tax on tobacco products from 20 per cent to 40 per cent, a 100 per cent increase aimed at reducing smoking in the Sultanate.

The cost for cigarettes rose from OMR1 for a pack to OMR1.2. The tax on tobacco products was raised for the first time in 17 years.

The higher tax on tobacco was announced after Bahrain raised its tax in January and Saudi Arabia in March 2016. Citing records, officials also said 60 per cent of all deaths in Oman are caused by non-communicable diseases, such as cardio-vascular conditions, including coronary heart disease and cancers.

Earlier, Majlis Al Shura members had requested the government to carry out a proposal prepared by the Ministry of Health to impose taxes on tobacco. “We have to raise prices so that they remain beyond the reach of children,” one of them said, noting that countries that had previously raised taxes on tobacco have been able to significantly reduce the impact of tobacco use.

“We hope that the price of a pack [of cigarettes] will be higher, and rise to a level that can help reduce consumption,” he said. The comparative prices of a pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes are: Saudi Arabia –SAR12, Oman –OMR1.2, Bahrain–BHD1.3, Qatar – QAR10, UAE – AED10, Kuwait – KWD0.75 – Source: Cost of Living

NDP give update on tobacco industry lawsuit

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says the NDP government is pleased with the progress being made on its legal action against the tobacco industry, though any resolution to the case is likely years away.

In 2012, the former Progressive Conservative government filed suit against 14 Canadian and international tobacco firms, seeking $10 billion to recover smoking-related health costs.

The process around the Tory government’s decision to hire the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers consortium as counsel on the case remains mired in controversy and under review, but Ganley said that the NDP is satisfied with the work done by the firm so far.

“The quality of the work itself has been very good,” she said in a recent interview.

“So at this point it would cause further delay and be quite costly to change counsel at this point. And so I don’t think it would be in the best interest of taxpayers to do that.”

British Columbia’s conflict of interest commissioner, Paul Fraser, is currently reviewing the actions of former premier Alison Redford in relation to questions of potential conflict of interest around her awarding of the tobacco lawsuit legal contract as justice minister in 2010. A key part of the consortium is Calgary-based JSS Barristers, a firm where her ex-husband is a partner.

Redford was cleared by then-ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson when the matter was investigated in 2013, but a report this spring from former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci cited concerns that Wilkinson didn’t have all the relevant information. He recommended Alberta’s ethics commissioner take another look but a potential conflict led to the appointment of B.C.’s commissioner.

Ganley said she couldn’t comment on how that report may ultimately affect the government’s legal action against the tobacco companies but reiterated the NDP’s support for the case.

“We do believe in the merits and the cause of the case and I think it’s potentially worth an enormous amount of money to the taxpayers of Alberta, so it’s definitely worth pursuing,” she said.

Among the allegations in the government’s lawsuit, none of which have been proven in court, is that the companies deliberately designed tobacco products to be highly addictive, deceived Albertans by minimizing the products’ addictiveness and harm, and falsely denied the health risks of exposure to tobacco products.

Ganley said the defendants in the case filed statements of defence in the spring.

The next step will be the exchange of documents, then the questioning phase.

“These things typically take a while,” said Ganley.

“There’s going to be an enormous amount of documents.”

It has been slow going for legal action against the tobacco industry by Canadian provinces since British Columbia filed the first lawsuit in 1998, said Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society in Ottawa.

There are 12 provinces and territories that have enabling legislation allowing them to launch lawsuits and 10 have legal action already underway.

“There are no trial dates set for any of the cases. The cases that are the most advanced it seems are B.C. and New Brunswick, in terms of the pre-trial discovery process,” said Cunningham, noting that he has no indication the controversy around Alberta’s legal contract has affected its case.

“It’s incumbent for provincial governments to get these cases to trial.”

In 1999, the U.S. tobacco industry settled with 46 U.S. states by agreeing to pay almost $250 billion over 25 years. That deal featured restrictions on how tobacco products were marketed and sold.

Cunningham said a case to watch in Canada is a Quebec class action lawsuit that awarded C$15.5 billion in damages to plaintiffs from tobacco companies.

The case was appealed and heard at the Quebec Court of Appeal in November, with a decision expected in 2017.

Cunningham noted many of the same documents and issues that were in play in the class action trial will be at issue in the provincial cases.

“The Quebec case demonstrates overwhelmingly the tobacco industry can be beaten,” he said.