Warning labels on some tobacco products are about to get bigger and more graphic. Photo by Sarah Ritchie.
by Sarah Ritchie
Shocking, graphic images will appear on cigarette and cigarillo packages across Canada starting in June. But tins of chewing tobacco - popular in Saskatchewan - will remain the same for now.
Health Canada plans to work on a second phase of this project, including new warning labels for smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, and big cigars. Until then, warning labels on smokeless tobacco, or chewing tobacco, will remain small.
According to Health Canada, usage rates of chewing tobacco are highest among young males. Although Canadian law bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, most users start at the tender age of nine or 10.
Josh Bruha was not far off that mark when he started. At 19 years old, he’s been chewing for nearly half his life.
He said he knew the health risks he faced when he started.
“It’s (part of) certain lifestyles, like farming and hockey,” Bruha explained.
A member of the SJHL’s Notre Dame Hounds, Bruha was raised on a farm in northern B.C. He falls into two of the groups who use chewing tobacco the most, according to Health Canada. Health Canada's research shows usage is most prevalent among athletes, Aboriginals, and rural males.
Overall, smokeless tobacco users make up a small percentage of the Canadian population. The issue has been largely overlooked in public education campaigns.
“Kids maybe have the idea that it’s a safer product,” said Will Cooke, tobacco advocacy coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society.
It’s not. Chewing tobacco contains 28 known carcinogens, and is highly addictive.
A ban on flavoured tobacco, which is geared toward youth, could go a long way to deter people from starting young.
“Flavours make it more attractive. We’ve banned flavours of cigarettes and cigarillos, so a ban would make sense,” said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society.
“I think that’s the part that’s geared more to the younger kids,” Bruha said, adding that he started chewing peach-flavoured tobacco.
Tyson Gilchrist started chewing at age 14. He said he picked up the habit while playing hockey. Once his playing days were over, Gilchrist quit.
“It’s disgusting,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit into my lifestyle anymore.”
But quitting isn’t easy for everyone. Bruha estimates he spends $100 a week to feed his habit, and he has no plans to quit.
“What has to happen, is there has to be greater prominence in mass media campaigns and school curriculums to talk about the serious health consequences,” said Cooke.
“It would be great if they had image-based warnings on chew as well. That’s something that has proven to be effective.”