Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Minimum Age for Purchase, Sale, and Supply
The topic in Bill 41 that appeared to be of most interest to stakeholders was the minimum age for the purchase, sale, or supply of tobacco and vaping products. Sections 1 and 4 of Bill 41 establish the minimum age at 19 years with respect to tobacco and vapour products and accessories. This is up from the current Tobacco Control Act's minimum age of 18 years. The Minister of Health and Social Services informed committee that the intention in raising the minimum age from 18 to 19 is to reduce youth uptake and be consistent with the minimum age for the purchase, sale, and supply of other regulated substances in the NWT, namely cannabis and alcohol.
Research indicates that most smokers have already begun smoking by the age of 19. As such, several stakeholders argued that a legal age of 19 does not go far enough to reduce youth access to harmful products.
Raising the age to 21 for tobacco and vaping products, the Canadian Cancer Society submits, would achieve several things. First, it would delay the age when young people first try or begin using tobacco or vaping, which can reduce the risk that they become regular users and, if they do become regular users, increase their chances of quitting successfully. For example, a 2015 report in the U.S. concluded that increasing the minimum tobacco sales age to 21 would reduce smoking by 25 percent among 15-17-year-olds, and 15 percent among 18-19-year-olds. Further, in places where the minimum age for purchases and sales was raised to 21, teenagers are reportedly less likely to experiment with cannabis.
Second, raising the age to 21 would reduce access. The societal influences that lead youth and adolescents to start using nicotine-containing products are unknown. As youth obtain most of their tobacco and vaping products through retail and social sources, raising the minimum age to 21 would prevent high school students from buying products for their peers and would make it more difficult for underage smokers to gain access to these products.
Third, the Canadian Cancer Society says the NWT has an opportunity to heed experiences elsewhere, including momentum in the United States towards raising the minimum age from 18 to 21. In the town of Needham, Massachusetts, for example, the results of raising the minimum age to 21 were an immediate, significant drop in current and frequent use of cigarettes among youth. Following full enforcement of the 21-years law, the percentage decline in youth smoking in Needham was nearly triple that of its neighbours.
Fourth, a minimum age of 21 would reduce disease and death. According to a 2015 report, if the minimum age were increased to 21 in the United States, tobacco use would decrease by 12 percent by the time today's teenagers were adults, smoking-related deaths would decrease by 10 percent, and 50,000 fewer people would die of lung cancer in that country.
Fifth, the Canadian Cancer Society is not persuaded by the Minister's rationale that 19 corresponds with the minimum age for alcohol and cannabis. The Canadian Cancer Society argues that tobacco should be treated differently than alcohol and cannabis, and Bill 41 should contain broader safeguards and impose stronger intervention than the NWT's liquor and cannabis legislation for several reasons:
- The objective is to pursue a tobacco-free society, but alcohol and cannabis are here to stay;
- The magnitude of the population-wide health damage from tobacco is much greater than for cannabis;
- Nicotine addiction is far more likely and much more severe, though cannabis can lead to dependence; and
- Unlike for cannabis, there is support from both commercial and public health interests for a minimum age of 21, including from JUUL Labs, which confirmed their support for 21 in a follow-up submission to committee.
Alternatively, the Canadian Cancer Society recommended Bill 41 provide for regulatory authority to prescribe a minimum age higher than 19, a step taken by British Columbia.
While committee recognizes the strong arguments in favour of raising the minimum age for the purchase, sale, and supply of tobacco and vaping products and accessories in Bill 41 from 19 to 21, committee agrees it makes sense to harmonize the legal ages for the purchase, sale, and supply of tobacco and vaping products with that for cannabis and alcohol. Unless or until the people of the NWT wish to debate whether the minimum age should be raised with respect to all of these substances, committee supports the minimum age of 19 years set out in Bill 41. Committee believes a minimum age of 19 is appropriate in the context of Bill 40, as well. Bill 40 refers to minors for the purpose of prohibiting smoking in a motor vehicle when a person under the age of 19 is present.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Finance explore the merits of raising the minimum age for the purchase, sale and supply of liquor, tobacco, cannabis, vaping products and accessories from 19 to 21.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will now hand this reading over to the honourable Member for Yellowknife Centre.