Canada Steps Up Anti-Smoking Measures Teen Smoking Has Skyrocked North of the Border and Clinton's Moves Are Being Watched with Interest

Article excerpt

CANADA has a reputation as one of the toughest antismoking nations on earth. But Kent Anoni couldn't care less.

Leaning back in his seat in the fast-food gallery of a downtown Toronto mall, smoke curling from a cigarette in his left hand, Mr. Anoni struggles to articulate why he began smoking illegally at age 16.

"All of my friends were smoking," says the teenager finally, flicking ash to the floor. "I hated smoking then. But all of my friends recommended it. Everybody's trying to get everyone to smoke."

Mr. Anoni pauses, then sheepishly recalls the particular reason he started: "It looked cool."

Anoni's case illustrates a disturbing trend: a sharp jump in teen smoking in Canada - from 23 to 27 percent of 15- to19-year-olds since 1991 - a phenomenon similar to what is happening in the United States.

Canadian health authorities found themselves last week taking notes on President Clinton's plan to have the Food and Drug Administration take control of tobacco as an addictive drug (because it contains nicotine), and to clamp down on teen smoking in the US.

"His {Clinton's} moves to consider tobacco a drug and to eliminate cigarette-company promotion and sponsorship of sporting and cultural events are quite innovative," says Bill Maga, a senior policy analyst at Health Canada, the federal ministry overseeing the national health policy.

A loophole in the Canadian ban on cigarette advertising currently permits cigarette manufacturers to create corporations with the same names as the brands they are trying to promote. Those companies then promote sporting and other events, such as the Players Ltd. racing events and the DuMaurier Arts Foundation.

"Kids are well aware of the connection between these events and the cigarettes," Mr. Maga says.

Despite that loophole, the Great White North is still well ahead of the US in implementing tough antismoking measures, authorities in both countries say. Most of what Mr. Clinton announced produced yawns in Canada.

Serious warning labels

Along with a total ban on cigarette advertising since 1989, Canadian cigarette packs carry much larger and tougher warning labels: "Cigarettes Can Kill You." Canada's tax rates per pack are also on average far higher than the US - 64 percent compared with 29 percent in the US. The effect on youths of higher prices works powerfully against smoking, activists say.

"Steep taxes that make a pack of cigarettes expensive are the most effective measures in keeping teens from smoking," says Heather Selinof Canada's Non-Smokers' Rights Association in Ottawa. "Without higher taxes, prices, all other efforts are a lot less effective."

Canadian law requires cigarette manufacturers to list on packs nicotine and other chemical content by percent. And legislation to force manufacturers to put cigarettes in plain packages is being debated in Parliament. …