AUGUST 30, 2004

Ciggies in kid-pleasing flavours tested here

Lax laws bring business to Quebec research.
Smoke-free Dr Pipe and others are outraged

Despite all the public pressure and government restrictions put on the beleaguered tobacco industry in recent years, Big Tobacco isn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. Quite the contrary, say critics, who feel they're still looking for ways to expand its smoky horizons.

Take plucky British American Tobacco (BAT), the second largest tobacco company in the world, which is currently experimenting with a cornucopia of ciggie flavours with over 400 ingredients ? such as vanilla, chocolate, maple syrup ? to tempt the smoker's addled palate. And the testing is being done right here in Canada. BAT is the corporate parent of the nation's biggest cigarette maker, Imperial Tobacco Canada, whose brands include Players, du Maurier, Matinée and Peter Jackson. The tobacco giant is using the CliniTrials BioResearch centre in Senneville, Quebec, to conduct the tests.

So, why Canada? That's easy: laxer testing laws. European Union legislation requires cigarette flavourings and additives to be thoroughly studied and tobacco testing on animals has been banned in the UK since 1997. In the face of adversity, the Quebec facility bravely took up the gauntlet; their (er, BAT-sponsored) results appear in the June supplement of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

The news of these experimental 'flavoured fags' has enraged UK health lobby group Action on Smoking and Health and the British public alike. The group charges that the cigarettes were part of a major tobacco company push for growth in the youth market. The outrage was widely reported in the British press, but in Canada the story was barely a blip on the media radar.

A spokesperson for BAT in London argues that the ingredients are merely used to add taste to their products, distinguishing their smokes from other brands, but critics aren't buying it. "Never underestimate the tobacco industry," says Dr Andrew Pipe, Director of the Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. "They will always look for ways to lure new customers." Dr Pipe sees these vanilla- and chocolate-laced cigarettes as just another attempt by tobacco peddlers to make their products more attractive to youngsters. "Their best customers are dying off, so they need to replace them," he notes grimly.

This isn't the first time the tobacco industry has employed nefarious means to gain access to young lungs. A study from the British Medical Journal in 2000 exposed a long running plot to use candy cigarettes to promote smoking to susceptible kids. Anti-smoking advocates have long fought to take candy cigarettes off the market for fear they give youngsters the taste for a bad habit, but they lacked solid proof of a conspiracy. A team from the University of Rochester analysed 153 tobacco industry documents, recently made public, which mentioned candy cigarettes and found that cigarette and candy cigarette manufacturers were in cahoots all along. The documents revealed that the tobacco industry had always regarded their candy doppelgangers as an excellent means of getting their message out to the youth market. They turned a blind eye to flagrant trademark infringements from confectioners who were blatantly mimicking their packaging; meanwhile they pursued competing tobacco companies like the Furies for the same crime. Just as disturbing, the researchers found that studies sponsored by candy cigarette manufacturers that found a clear link between candy cigarettes and smoking were expurgated for public consumption.

Are we getting complacent about youth smoking?

Smoking is on the decline among kids in Canada ? the most recent StatsCan figures indicate that 3% of kids in grades five to nine considered themselves smokers in 2002, down significantly from 7% in 1994. But that still means roughly 54,000 Canadian kids between 10 and 14 are lighting up. Rates among older kids are higher, and more girls are smoking than boys.

As one of the founders of Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada (PSC), a national organization with a self-explanatory agenda, Dr Pipe has a vested interest in these matters. Founded back in 1985 as a registered charity, the PSC currently boasts a membership of over 500 physicians. "The PSC has been remarkably successful since it's always been seen as a very credible source of information concerning tobacco issues," says Dr Pipe. "As physicians, we really need to be non-judgmental to all of our patients and we need to continue to educate them about the benefits of smoking cessation."

As for BAT and other tobacco manufacturers, Dr Pipe continues to be amazed at the tactics they use to ensure that their products have no shortage of customers. "These business people know very well that their products will kill their customers and it's just beyond me how they can sleep at night," he says.



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