From Tobacco Info No. 6 - July 2011
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New study from the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control
Flavoured cigars don’t measure up
Half of flavoured cigars don’t meet the legal weight requirements
By Anick Perreault-Labelle
In July 2010, Canada’s Tobacco Act was amended to include Bill C-32, which aims to protect youth from tobacco marketing. The new rules, among other things, ban the sale of flavoured cigars that have a cigarette filter and weigh less than 1.4 grams. They aim to reduce the attractiveness of the sweet candy taste these little cigars — or cigarillos — have among kids.
The proof of the appeal these toxic products have? In Quebec, in 2008, more high school students consumed only cigarillos (7%) than cigarettes alone (4%), according to the Quebec Institute of Statistics (11% smoke both and 78% smoke neither). Also in 2008, 6% of students who said that they had always been non-smokers had actually already tried cigarillos, leading the Institute to acknowledge that cigarillos played some role in smoking uptake of youth.
Colts cigars: 67 to 70% non-compliant
To test the level of compliance with the new legislation, the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control weighed — to the hundredth of a gram — 400 products sold as flavoured cigars. The results were that 49% of these products weighed less than 1.4 grams and were, therefore, in violation of the law.
The Coalition’s study shows that Colts cigars — distributed by the Scandinavian Tobacco Group Canada (STG Canada) — have a particularly high rate of non-compliance. Sixty-seven percent of Colts Mild Rum & Wine and 70% of Colts Sweets tested by the Coalition failed to meet the legal weight requirements. For all the brands combined, the average weight of the nearly 200 non-compliant cigars was 1.33 grams or 5% less than the minimum required.
Even taking into account possible variations during manufacturing, these cigars do not pass the test, says the Coalition. For example, the organization notes that Health Canada’s Cigarette Ignition Propensity Regulations require that 75% of a sample of a company’s product pass a conformity test for the product itself to be considered compliant. Applying the same criterion to cigar weight would render no less than nine out of the 10 products studied illegal for sale in Canada.
According to André Blais, STG Canada spokesperson, “the quarterly reports that we send to Health Canada show that when they leave the factory, our Colts cigars weigh more than 1.4 grams.” Blais explains that the cigars lose some of their moisture, and therefore their weight, during storage.
A conciliatory government?
The anti-tobacco groups condemn the relative lack of government action on this issue.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared in July 2010 that “compliance with these rules will be monitored and enforced [and]… if necessary, the legislation will be revisited.”
“I am disappointed that, in spite of these promises, Health Canada isn’t reacting,” said Cynthia Callard, Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “If this continues, we will approach the provincial governments. We have not looked at the Canadian situation on this question, but, since we find the same products in the rest of Canada as in Quebec, we can assume that the situation is the same.”
Health Canada claims to be doing the necessary follow up. “Inspectors from across the country have collected and weighed sample cigars… [and noted] that some brands of cigars violate the minimum requirements for packaging of small cigars,” writes Health Canada spokesperson Olivia Caron in an email. Health Canada doesn’t take these infractions lightly, she adds, but sources quoted by Montreal newspaper 24 heures conceded that “Health Canada is aware that some manufacturers are having difficulty meeting the weight requirements.” As for the special case of STG Canada, Health Canada refuses to comment for reasons of confidentiality.
The key: predict companies’ strategies
The irony of the story? “We specifically targeted products that manufacturers launched after C-32 was adopted,” says Flory Doucas, Codirector of the Quebec Coalition. “These new flavoured cigars mimic the brand name and the appearance but were designed to be slightly larger than cigarillos, and therefore never respected the spirit of the law.” But the new study shows that they don’t respect its letter either.
Anti-tobacco groups are calling for stricter measures. The Coalition’s study, released in April, concluded that the government must “anticipate the strategies of the tobacco companies when drafting legislation.” Specifically, “it should have banned flavours in all tobacco products, including shisha, cigars and chewing tobacco,” says Doucas. “It would have made the law easier to implement and allowed for fewer loopholes. The other solution would have been to declare a moratorium on new tobacco products.”
A rigorous study
The Coalition analyzed products sold as ‘cigars’ by three distributors: Scandinavian Tobacco Group Canada, Casa Cubana and Distribution GVA. Two flavours were chosen from each of the five brands, including Bullseye Extra (cherry), Bullseye Extra (peach), Colts Sweets, Colts Mild (rum and wine), Honey T (cherry), Honey T (peach), M by Colts (white), M by Colts (latte), PrimeTime Plus (cherry) and PrimeTime Plus (peach).
To minimize bias related to the manufacturing or storage, the Coalition carefully selected a sample of 400 cigars. The organization bought two packs of cigars of each of the 10 brand-flavour combinations in five different stores in the Greater Montreal Area. It then weighed four cigars from each pack.
The Coalition removed the packaging and the tips of the cigars before weighing. Finally, for the sake of transparency, all procedures were filmed.