Manitoba government bill that bars sales of tobacco products directed at kids doesn't go far enough, say anti-smoking advocates, pointing to exemptions for menthol cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco

WINNIPEG, Manitoba , June 4, 2014 () – ANTI-SMOKING advocates say a Manitoba government bill that bars the sale of tobacco products directed at kids doesn't go far enough.

Officials with the Manitoba Lung Association and the Canadian Cancer Society say they're pleased with the general provisions of Bill 52, but they're disappointed the proposed law exempts menthol cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco.

"The bill, as it is written, provides exemptions for both menthol and flavoured chewing tobacco. And we see both of those as things that weaken the impact of the legislation," said Erin Crawford, director of public issues with the cancer society's Manitoba division.

"Why leave either one of them out?" she said.

Margaret Bernhardt-Lowdon, executive director of the lung association, said her organization is concerned allowing the sale of menthol cigarettes gives kids another tobacco choice -- one that could lead them to a life of smoking.

"Menthol is still a flavour, and we think people are attracted to it," she said. "It also makes smoking easier because it cuts down on the irritation in the airwaves."

Healthy Living Minister Sharon Blady, who introduced the bill, said its main intent is to close loopholes in federal rules preventing the sale of products geared to minors.

The packaging of some of these products makes them appear more like coloured felt markers or lip gloss than something that can harm your health, she said.

The bill, which was to receive public input at the legislature Tuesday night, targets such products as Prime Time, Backwoods and Honey T.

Smoking is a broad health concern, "And it's not something that any one person is going to solve in one day with one piece of legislation," Blady said.

"As a non-smoker and a healthy living minister I would love it if no one smoked. But at this time the focus has to be on the kids," she said.

Blady said the government intends to amend the bill to delay its proclamation, possibly until as late as the new year, to ensure it only targets products aimed at kids and to allow more time for public education.

The government has been criticized by manufacturers and distributors for casting too wide a net with the bill. For instance, pipe tobacco retailers felt the bill would prevent them from selling their products, many of which are flavoured.

"I want to make sure that we do this right," Blady said of the proclamation delay, which will give the government more time to refine its target list.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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