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January 21st, 2017:

Health Minister’s call to raise legal smoking age to 21 receives cloudy reviews

It’s the number-one preventable form of death in B.C.

“You look at cancer, heart disease, other vascular strokes, they’re all related to smoking,” said BC Health Minister Terry Lake.

Earlier this week Lake tweeted the idea of raising the minimum legal smoking age in B.C from 19 to 21.

According to Lake, Hawaii, California, and more than 120 jurisdictions in the United States have already made the move.

“In a study, they looked at one jurisdiction where they had raised the age verses surrounding jurisdictions where it was a younger age,” said Lake. “There was a 47% reduction in smoking in high school students in the jurisdiction that had raised the minimum smoking age to 21.”

The current legal age to buy cigarettes across Canada varies.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec’s legal age is 18.

The rest of the provinces are 19.

While B.C has the lowest smoking rate at 14%, Interior Health Smoking Reduction Coordinator Jeff Connors says raising the legal smoking age to 21 could lower that number even further.

“85% of people who smoke for life start before 19 years of age, so that’s highschool,” said Connors. “I think by sending the message you’re not allowed to, it puts an onus on staff and consumption agencies that tobaccos is a bigger problem. It’s not 19 it’s 21 now, that’s a big difference, so it will reduce the availability to it.”

Along with increasing cigarette buying age, Connors says Health Canada is toying with the idea of making health warning signs larger and even more visible on cigarette packs in an effort to get more people to butt out.

“Looking at plain packaging is another piece, just to reduce the sexiness of the drug,” added Connors.

The majority of the people CFJT-TV spoke to in downtown Kamloops Friday say raising the cigarette buying age won’t deter smokers.

“It’s a bad idea. I see 12-year-old kids smoking, kids are going to still do it,” said one man.

“I think it’s a great idea, anything you can do to deter smokers,” said one woman.

“I don’t think it’s necessary. If a teen wants to smoke, he’s going to smoke,” said another man.

The Health Minister says there’s still plenty to discuss before any changes are made to the smoking market.

“We don’t want to have unintended consequences,” added Lake. “The black market is always something you have to consider when you put in policies like this. It really is just a conversation starter.”