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Cigarette possession becomes illegal for Novia Scotia's under 19s

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7380.69 (Published 11 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:69
  1. David Spurgeon
  1. Quebec

    On 1 January it became illegal for people under the age of 19 in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia to possess or smoke cigarettes. Young people caught with cigarettes by police will not be charged or fined, but police will be authorised to confiscate the cigarettes.

    The province's Act to Protect Young Persons and Other Persons from Tobacco Smoke is one of Canada's most extensive tobacco laws. British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Labrador have also enacted antismoking regulations.

    Nova Scotia's new act is controversial, with even committed antismoking groups criticising the way it is trying to protect youth. Smoke-Free Nova Scotia—a coalition of individuals, organisations, and professional associations that advocates a complete ban on smoking in the province—said: “Making tobacco use and possession illegal for people under 19 may make smoking even more attractive for some young people. This type of law is of questionable value. From 1908 to 1993, federal law made the possession of tobacco by children under the age of 16 illegal. During this period the smoking rate for minors fluctuated widely, rising to over 50% in 1974. This type of restriction indirectly implies that for those over 19, smoking is acceptable.”

    Garfield Mahood, executive director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, agreed: “The tobacco industry likes to position tobacco use as adult behaviour. The cigarette becomes the badge that signals entry into adulthood. Nova Scotia is playing right into the tobacco industry's trap.”

    The Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail said the legislation goes too far. It questioned how male police officers would deal with female teenagers suspected of having cigarettes on their person. However, Bill Van Gorder, chief executive officer of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia, said that his group supports the legislation. “Kids have to understand that this [smoking] is not something they can do with impunity,” he said.

    Nova Scotia's new act provides for a province-wide ban on smoking in many public places and some workplaces. In other workplaces smoking is permitted only in a designated smoking room that is enclosed and separately ventilated and where people under 19 years old are not permitted to enter. Schools, shopping malls, recreational facilities, taxis, theatres, and offices of a municipality, village, school board, or provincial government are all included in the ban.

    Nova Scotia's smoking rate is higher than the national average, says Smoke-Free Nova Scotia. “Each year in Nova Scotia, tobacco kills 1650 smokers, and 200 non-smokers die from cancer caused by exposure to second-hand smoke… Treating tobacco related illnesses costs the provincial healthcare system $C170m [£68m; $US109m; €104m] every year.”

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