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
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.
THE MOUTHS OF BABES
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
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,"