Questions surrounding the legal age to buy tobacco products in Saskatchewan are once again being raised, amidst recent action by two other provinces in Canada and New York City raising the legal purchasing age to 21.
As it stands today the legal age to buy tobacco products in Saskatchewan is 18. Donna Pasiechnik, a Health Policy Analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, told paNOW it makes sense for the province to review the law.
"We haven't updated our tobacco control laws since 2009-2010, and during [the last eight years] we've seen the introduction of e-cigarettes and water pipe smoking and the proliferation of flavoured tobacco products and really we have no policy in place to address that," she said.
Pasiechnik said at a minimum she would like to see the age in Saskatchewan raised to 19, in line with the legal age to buy alcohol, and possibly even as high as 21. According to the most recent statistics by Health Canada, the smoking rate among youth in Saskatchewan is almost three times the national average. Pasiechnik said by raising the legal age to buy tobacco products, the province could help curb the number of young smokers.
"It's all about access. It's harder for a 16 or 17-year-old to purchase tobacco if the minimum age is 21 versus 18," she said.
The Quebec government has committed to raise age to buy cannabis to 21 but health groups in that province have also pushed to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. Health groups in B.C. made a similar push but as of yet nothing has made its way to the legislature. South of the border, New York City recently joined a handful of jurisdictions and states which have made 21 the legal age to buy tobbacco. Pasiechnik said it would take only one province to get the ball rolling in Canada.
"That's the way it usually works in tobacco control. Sort of one province does it and everyone kind of leap frogs," she said.
paNOW reached out for comment from the provincial government. The Minister of Health was not available for comment, but a statement was issued which indicated there are no plans at this time to change the age restrictions.
"We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of approaches like increasing minimum age requirements in other provinces to determine if there is need to make changes to our provincial legislation," the statement said.
According to the statement, the provincial government has used other forms of legislation to de-normalize smoking and prevent youth from being exposed to second hand smoke. Some of the examples provided include prohibiting smoking on school grounds, in a car if there is a child under 16 present, and near the entrances of buildings. Selling tobacco products in pharmacies has also been prohibited, and as of October 22 pharmacists can now prescribe smoking cessation products – making them easier to access than ever before.
Pasiechnik said she will not give up her fight and will continue to push the issue with the provincial government.
On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell
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