The provincial government must do more to curb teen access to tobacco products, an Edmonton-based anti-smoking group said this week.
“Alberta is the only province in Canada without specific provincial controls on tobacco sales to minors.” said Les Hagen of Action on Smoking and Health. “We believe that Alberta kids deserve first-class protection from tobacco, and right now they’re getting second-class protection.”
Hagen’s group is calling on the province to introduce stricter regulations to help prevent retailers from selling tobacco to teens. A Health Canada survey on retailer compliance released last month showed that 17 per cent of Alberta retailers were willing to sell tobacco to minors between the ages of 15 and 17, compared with about 10 per cent of retailers willing to do so in 2006.
Hagen’s group wants to see Alberta build on existing federal legislation by introducing regulations similar to those currently controlling the sale of alcohol in the province.
He said Alberta should introduce a licensing policy and mandatory training for tobacco retailers, better point-of-sale signs, and a mandatory ID check for anyone 25 or under. The province should also introduce a minimum age of 18 for clerks who sell tobacco products, Hagen said.
“You could have a 14-year-old selling tobacco in Alberta,” he said. “Not only is it an issue of controlling the sale, but tobacco products invite crime. It is a health issue and a safety issue.”
Minister of Health and Wellness Gene Zwozdesky agreed that more action may be needed to lower youth smoking rates and said he was willing to listen to suggestions from anti-smoking advocates. But he said the province already has strict fines and guidelines in place regarding tobacco sales to minors.
“We haven’t had that discussion, but I am prepared to listen to what the proponents are advocating,” Zwozdesky said.
He said smoking rates among teens aged 15 to 19 now stand at about 16 per cent, a number he wants to see decline.
“Clearly, we have to do more work to continue reducing that number and eventually eliminating it if we can,” he said.
Hagen said teens continue to take up smoking partly because of tobacco industry marketing campaigns designed to encourage them to buy their products.
“They will vigorously deny that they are doing anything to attract teenagers, but you have to look no further than candy flavours, price discounts and slim cigarettes,” Hagen said. “It’s obvious to everyone that the industry is targeting kids and continuing to entice them to use their deadly products.”
Charlene Reese, 17, has been smoking for a few years.
“Maybe you have to be 18 to buy smokes, but anyone can get them. All you need is an older friend or something.”
Kelly Allers, 23, is a clerk at a downtown tobacco shop. He regularly turns away minors trying to buy tobacco products.
“On average, I probably kick out two people a week because they don’t have ID.”
He said he usually asks for identification from anyone who looks under 23.
By Mariam Ibrahim, Edmonton Journal June 2, 2010