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Alberta ban on menthol cigarettes comes into effect Thursday

CALGARY – The Alberta government’s ban on menthol tobacco comes into effect Thursday, four months after Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced the substance would be added to the province’s flavoured tobacco ban.

Alberta Health confirmed menthol cigarettes will be able to be sold up until midnight Wednesday, but not after.

“Although it’s illegal for minors to purchase tobacco, we know that these products are still making their way into the hands of our youth,” said the department in a statement on its website. “In fact, approximately one-third of youth smokers use menthol-flavoured tobacco. Because of this, the Alberta government announced the ban on the sale of menthol tobacco products in May 2015.”

“[Businesses] want to make sure that they can continue to be viable business and we want them to too, but the most important thing is we protect the health of Albertans and in particular of our youth and the research was very clear that this step needed to be taken to do so,” said Hoffman at a May press conference.

On June 1, the sale of other kinds of flavoured tobacco were banned in Alberta under the Tobacco Reduction Amendment Regulation. Cigars that cost more than $4 each and weigh five grams or more and pipe tobacco are exempt.

In May, the Western Convenience Stores Association spoke against adding menthol to the flavoured tobacco ban. It said lobbyists for health organizations were trying to shame the new NDP government into making it impossible for adults to buy menthol cigarettes. Association president Andrew Klukas said a ban would cost the government tax revenue and drive the sale of menthol tobacco underground.

One Lethbridge convenience store owner said the ban would also hurt the bottom line of his stores.

“It’s going to have a lot of impact–the same as the flavour ban did,” said Brian Eakett, owner of Green’s Pop Shop in Lethbridge. “People are already making changes and turning to mild smokes. If the government thinks people are going to quit smoking, then they are not as smart as I think they are.”

Stores will receive a fine of $500 if caught selling menthol tobacco products.

Tobacco control organization Action on Smoking & Health said the new regulations will keep thousands of Alberta youth out of the hands of the tobacco industry.

“We cannot allow tobacco companies to dictate public health and health policy in Alberta,” said ASH executive director Les Hagen. “In other words, we must keep the fox out of the hen house.”

The NDP government highlight other tobacco-restricting measures put into place on its website:

November 14, 2014 – smoking in vehicles with minors present as well as selling or giving tobacco products to minors is banned.
June 1, 2015 – the sale of most flavoured tobacco products is banned and cigarettes, bidis, blunt wraps and certain cigars are required to be sold in minimum package sizes.
June 1, 2015 – retailers are notified that menthol will be banned.
September 30, 2015 – the sale of menthol flavoured tobacco products in Alberta is banned.
Watch below: Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced the government would add menthol to the province’s flavoured tobacco ban in May. Lisa Wolansky reports.

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