Trading barbs: Canada tries to outlaw US cigarettes

Tobacco country lawmakers are seething over a bill that would outlaw U.S. cigarettes in Canada.

Bill C-32, which has been approved by Canada’s House of Commons but not the Senate, would ban the use of all flavorings, except menthol, in all cigarettes.

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The controversial legislation is being considered amid a debate over “Buy American” language in the $787 stimulus bill that required U.S. content in projects as long as that did not violate trade deals.

The Canadian bill’s intent is to make tobacco products less affordable and accessible to young people by prohibiting candy-flavorings in cigarettes used to turn children on to smoking.

But the ban on flavorings would also include mild flavorings used in the processing of American-blend cigarettes made from burley tobacco. The flavorings are intended to make the products taste less harsh and are not detectable to smokers, according to Roger Quarles, president of the Kentucky’s Burley Tobacco Cooperative.

Such flavorings are used in cigarettes sold under the brand names Marlboro and Camel. U.S. lawmakers argue the language would effectively ban American-blend cigarettes, since Virginia-style cigarettes would not be affected by the language.

Virginia-style cigarettes do not use burley leaf, do not include flavorings and are sold in brand names such as Rothmans.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) in a June 17 letter to Canada’s ambassador noted the U.S. legislation putting new regulations on tobacco, approved by the Senate just a week ago, outlawed flavors like chocolate in cigarettes but not “non-characterizing” flavors. He said he was deeply concerned by the bill.

Canada has criticized Buy American language in the stimulus for hurting Canadian businesses, and have sought an exception from the language.

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an ally of Canada’s on the stimulus that opposed Buy American language, said Canada is now unfairly targeting U.S. products.

“We find it disheartening that the Canadian government is now effectively favoring one product over another in a way that uniquely damages U.S.-made products,” Myron Brilliant, the Chamber’s vice president of international affairs, wrote in a letter to the chairman of the House of Commons’s standing committee in international trade.

U.S. lawmakers from Tennessee and Kentucky also have raised the issue with Canadian officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. They argue the American-blend cigarettes are no more harmful to health than the Virginia-leaf cigarettes that would not be banned by the bill.

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), in a letter to Canada’s minister of industry, said there’s no evidence that American blend cigarettes are more appealing to underage smokers. “Because there is no health justification for such a broad ban on flavorings,” he said the bill would violate Canada’s commitments to the World Trade Organization and under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Those deals allow countries to impose barriers on trade for health reasons. However, since the legislation would impact burley tobacco but not the Virginia-style cigarettes, Davis and U.S. business groups say the legislation would run afoul of trade rules.

Republican members of Kentucky’s delegation urged Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to take action to stop “an unfair assault on a critical source of farm jobs in our country.” The letter was signed by Bunning and the state’s four GOP House members — Reps. Ed Whitfield, Harold Rogers, Geoff Davis and Brett Guthrie — as well as Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler.

Philippe Laroche, a spokesman for Health Canada, said the bill prohibits all flavorings, including those used in American-blend cigarettes.

“We know the addition of flavours and additives makes them more appealing to youth and this is exactly the kind of marketing tactic that we want to prevent in order to protect our vulnerable youth,” he said in an e-mail.

He said there are no restrictions on the use of burley tobacco, and said Canada “is committed to respecting its international obligations.”

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