Ben Otto was 16 when his co-worker offered him his first cigarette. It was a peach Bullseye.
"I just started mostly because of stress due to school. I was working 40 hours a week and still going to school, so it was tough," said the now 18-year-old West Kildonan Collegiate student after hearing the province is working toward banning flavoured tobacco products.
What began as a stress reliever has turned into a habit. He smokes five to 10 times a day and buys a pack of flavoured cigarettes every couple of weeks.
Youth smokers by the numbers
29.5: the difference between the percentage of students in grades six to nine who reported having tried a cigarette in 1994 (45 per cent) compared with 2010-11 (15.5 per cent), according to Health Canada's 2010-11 Youth Smoking Survey (YSS).
49: percentage of Manitoban tobacco users in grades nine through 12 who reported using flavoured tobacco in the last 30 days, according to the 2010-11 YSS.
79: percentage of young tobacco users who reported using flavoured versions of cigarillos, according to the 2012 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey.
6,400: population estimate of Manitobans in grades six to 12 who use any form of flavoured tobacco, according to the 2010-11 YSS.
"I'd rather smoke flavoured tobacco than normal cigarettes," he said.
"It tastes good, and it kind of takes your mind off of everything."
Young smokers such as Otto drove Healthy Living Minister Sharon Blady to the Manitoba legislature Wednesday in hopes of banning flavoured cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars and loose tobacco.
"Flavours like candy, chocolate or fruit make tobacco much more attractive to children and youth, and they make it more likely that kids will experiment with tobacco and get hooked," said Blady at West Kildonan Collegiate.
She held up a marker and a flavoured cigarette with a colourful package that was about the same size as the marker.
"Can you tell the difference between the Crayola marker and the flavoured tobacco product? These are clearly marketed towards our youth."
Blady hopes the proposed amendment to the Non-Smokers Health Protection Act will come into effect before summer.
"It's not their right to tell us what we should and shouldn't be able to do," he said, adding he would seriously consider quitting smoking if flavoured cigarettes were banned.
"Cigarette brands only go so far, but flavoured tobacco brings a different kind of flavour."
The proposed legislation would ban the popular flavoured cigar brands Otto smokes, such as Bullseye, Prime Time, Backwoods, Bluntarillo, Colts and Honey T.
Blady said the amendments are meant to address the loopholes in the federal Tobacco Act that allow companies to sell flavoured tobacco products.
The law defines cigarillos as cigars weighing 1.4 grams or less or having a cigarette filter. Many companies get around the law by making cigars that are more than 1.4 grams, which allows them to legally continue to add flavours to the product.
While flavoured-tobacco laws have sparked a heated debate between non-smokers and tobacco companies for years, some students at West Kildonan Collegiate have taken matters into their own hands.
Hayley Ward and Tessa Bortoluzzi are part of a group called Students Working Against Tobacco (S.W.A.T.) that regularly presents educational sessions about the negative effects of smoking to high school students.
The two 15-year-olds have been working with the group for the past two years to get their peers to stop smoking. They said their efforts have worked.
"We have an online survey that every single student takes and you can fill in a space where it says 'Have you ever smoked before or how often do you smoke?' and the numbers from last year to this year have significantly decreased," said Bortoluzzi.
Blady said if the legislation is passed, her next step will be to ban e-cigarettes, menthol tobacco products and flavoured smokeless tobacco.