There are renewed calls for the provincial government to ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products to young people in Alberta, after newly-released statistics show two-thirds of the province's youth tobacco users are using flavoured products.

The calls from anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health were backed by new figures from a recent Health Canada survey that suggest 64 per cent of the province’s youth tobacco users are using flavoured tobacco products including menthol cigarettes, flavoured cigars and cigarillos, flavoured smokeless tobacco and flavoured water pipe tobacco.

“That is very disturbing,” said Les Hagen with Action on Smoking and Health.

“It demonstrates the industry’s efforts to target young people through candy flavours are unfortunately working.”

The Youth Smoking Survey was conducted by Health Canada in the 2010-11 school year among 50,000 students in Grades 6 to 12 across Canada.

The Alberta sample represents 4,500 youth from 35 schools across the province.

Health groups are calling on the province to ban flavoured tobacco products and crack down on tobacco sales to minors.

“The industry realizes its future is based upon young smokers and that’s why it continues to target them. We need to stop that. We need to take the youth market away from the tobacco industry,” Hagen said.

A presentation on flavoured tobacco was held at Laurier Heights School on Tuesday.

Student Levi Soprovich said no one he knows uses flavoured tobacco but admits it appears companies are targeting youth.

“It’s like targeting us,” Soprovich said. “It’s not very good for us.”

Student Zoe Voigd said flavoured tobacco packaging and candy flavours can attract young people to the product.

“The candy flavoured stuff really affects it because it’s supposed to taste good,” Voigd said.

'We want to see a clamp-down on tobacco sales to minors'

Last November, Health Minister Fred Horne had announced the province would bring forward this legislation in the 2013 spring session – which begins next week.

Hagen hopes the new statistics will push the province in what he believes is the right direction.

“We were promised by the health minister that the government would bring forward legislation in this session, we want to see a clamp-down on tobacco sales to minors in Alberta,” Hagen said.

“We believe anyone who is selling tobacco should be 18 and over, that retailers should be licensed, that any youth who appears under the age for 25 should be carded and that all staff should receive mandatory training.”

The group says the government has failed to meet its youth tobacco reduction target for the past several years.

“Alberta is failing to meet its youth tobacco reduction target. We have failed to meet that target for several years,” Hagen said.

Statistics show 13 per cent of young people aged 12 to 19 in Alberta were regular smokers in 2010. The province’s target had been 10 per cent.

“We are failing our youth. This legislation, these proposals, will go a long way towards further reducing tobacco use and actually meeting our targets,” he said.

Government working on tobacco-reduction legislation

The province tells CTV News its Tobacco Reduction Strategy was announced last fall, and with it, a number of initiatives aimed at curbing tobacco use in Alberta was introduced.

The 10-year plan will see legislation restricting the sale of flavoured tobacco, legislation prohibiting tobacco sales to minors, legislation to protect children from second-hand smoke in vehicles, increasing social marketing around harms associated with tobacco use, enhancing tobacco cessation training for health professionals and expanding workplace, school-based and community tobacco-cessation programs.

The province says its strategy addresses a number of issues advocates have raised concerns over and implementation of tobacco-reduction legislation is still in the works.C

Click here to find out more about Alberta's Tobacco Reduction Strategy (2012-2022)

Some youth tobacco facts

  • There are approximately 50,000 Alberta adolescents using tobacco products (Canadian Community Health Survey)
  • Alberta youth smoke 530,000 cigarettes each day (Canadian community Health Survey)
  • On average, Alberta youth start using tobacco products by age 14 (AADAC, 2008)
  • The vast majority of tobacco users start in adolescence and most regret having started (Health Canada, 2006)
  • The most frequently-consumed flavoured tobacco products among Alberta adolescents are flavoured little cigars or cigarillos (36 per cent), flavoured cigars (30 per cent), menthol cigarettes (26 per cent), flavoured water pipe tobacco (17 per cent), and flavoured smokeless tobacco (14 per cent).