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New law would force papers to butt out of tobacco advertising

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq introduced proposed amendments to the Tobacco Act in Parliament on Tuesday.

The new law would prohibit the sale of flavoured cigarillos (little cigars) and require that they be sold in packs of at least 20 units.

It would also repeal an exemption that currently allows tobacco advertising in publications with a primarily (but not exclusively) adult audience – a move specifically targeted at free entertainment weekly newspapers.

The amendments are all being proposed as ways to prevent marketing of tobacco to young people.

Sales of cigarillos have increased sharply in recent years. Health Canada argues that the fruit and candy-flavoured cigarillos are particularly targeted at teenagers and other new smokers.

The new minimum size of packs (which would match an existing minimum for cigarettes) is also intended to limit sales to minors. Health Canada refers to small packages of cigarillos as “kiddy-packs” and predicts that teenagers will be less able to afford packs of 20.

But the change to tobacco marketing rules will hurt more than just the tobacco companies. At a time when advertising income is down from all sources, it will be another squeeze on the newspapers that currently carry these ads.

The editor of one of the largest entertainment weeklies in Canada, Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, nonetheless applauds the move.

“I have personally encouraged the BC Lung Association and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada to pressure Parliamentarians on this matter,” said Charlie Smith, who has previously written on the subject for the paper.

But Smith’s commitment has not been enough to convince his own business department – in the past three weeks, the Straight has published three full-page, full-colour cigarette ads.

Currently, tobacco advertising is allowed in a newspaper or magazine if at least 85 per cent of its readers are over 19. But a Health Canada backgrounder argues that for free papers, it is “impossible to restrict access by children and youth or determine if the readership is at least 85% adult.”

If Parliament approves the amendments, tobacco advertising will only be allowed in bars and clubs where minors cannot enter or in publications that are sent by mail to a specific adult subscriber. Supreme Court decisions, most recently in 2007, have confirmed that the government cannot ban tobacco advertising completely.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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