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Canada has long promoted itself as the world leader in tobacco control. The narrative which came to support this claim strategically emerged through decades of publicly-funded anti-tobacco group lobbying campaigns that were purposely designed to hold their funder (Health Canada) hostage. Over time, Health Canada came to assume sole responsibility for this moniker to the point of now continually abusing it.
Having sat at every side of the table on this public file (tobacco) over the last almost three decades now – I experienced first-hand the health community’s Machiavellian approach to tobacco control, the government’s blatant disregard for the facts or fair play and the industry’s unsuccessful attempts at rightful consideration. The many examples of questionable conduct, from within both the (publicly-funded) anti-tobacco groups and Health Canada itself – are too discouraging to mention. Suffice to say the current narrative on tobacco is an intentionally skewed one with exaggerated facts bordering on fear mongering.
The Push for Plain Packaging
In 2016, the federal government began public (policy) consultations on the issue of plain packaging for tobacco products. By June of 2018, proposed regulations had been drafted, for subsequent procedural public consultation (Canada Gazette, Part I, Volume 152, Number 25: Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance), June 23, 2018). If history is any indicator – completely unjustified and unreasonable plain packing regulations are soon to be introduced in Canada.
In a nutshell, the Tobacco Control Program at Health Canada wants the general public to believe that current tobacco product packaging is a relevant factor in a kid’s decision to try smoking. This, within the context of longstanding and graphically disgusting images covering 75 per cent of the principal display surfaces of cigarette and little cigar packs (98 per cent in Québec). Adding insult to eventual injury, Health Canada absurdly argues the need to further require plain packaging on niche (adult) tobacco products that kids don’t consume – as a way to protect these kids from these products (i.e. cigars and pipe tobacco). You heard right.
Australia was the first country to initiate plain packaging requirements for all tobacco products on December 1, 2012. Australia was also the first country who could and subsequently did study the actual impact of plain packaging of tobacco products on smoking trends. Five years after plain packaging was required on all tobacco products sold in Australia, the government commissioned a study on its impact, titled: Study of the Impact of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Measure on Smoking Prevalence in Australia (January 19, 2016). This study, the only actual evidence in existence on plain packaging of tobacco products - concluded that 0.55 per cent of the change in smoking prevalence in Australia (five years in) could be attributed to new labelling requirements on tobacco packaging. A later addendum to the study would state that this percentage decline could not be directly attributed to plain packaging, as other labeling elements were also introduced at the same time (e.g. graphic health warnings also came to cover 75 per cent – 95 per cent of tobacco product packaging).
France (January 1, 2017) and the United Kingdom (May 20, 2017) followed suit and introduced more targeted plain packaging initiatives in 2017 – aimed at mass-market products (i.e. cigarettes and RYO) of relevance to youth initiation. The French government, for its part, has since acknowledged that a year after implementation of their plain packaging regulations (which also included larger health warnings on tobacco products) - tobacco sales actually increased in the country. As importantly, the government acknowledged that there was no evidence that plain packaging had prevented smoking initiation.
Despite the clear evidence that plain packaging doesn’t work – Health Canada can be expected to once again secure the public mandate to push this initiative through. And in this initiative’s wake – companies will go out of business, a wide variety of niche (adult) tobacco products which cannot comply will unnecessarily disappear form the marketplace and four million well-informed, responsible adult Canadians will find themselves one again further stigmatized, marginalized and vilified for their legal lifestyle choices.
The Trick – How a Lie Becomes a Law
The Tobacco Control Program has for decades subtly discriminated against the tobacco industry – undermining their right to equitable and meaningful consultation. This discrimination has been encouraged by the department and allowed by the government.
But this subtlety is now over. Health Canada now formally, publicly and essentially states that anyone associated with the industry need not opine on matters of proposed policy on tobacco. In other words, they (you) are excluded from discussing, debating and/or challenging the government’s proposed policies on tobacco or the arguments and evidence supporting these. The only allowable incursion into public consultation is as technical advisors within the context of regulatory feasibility. More on this point, whether you can comply or not remains irrelevant.
Health Canada justifies this public discrimination against you on the basis of their obligations as a signatory member to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
In other words - Health Canada has effectively rigged the process to now only hear (and vote count) from those who share the same professional goals and/or are publicly funded by them. This rigged process, in the end, comes to secure the public approval they need to secure approval for the initiative - while diluting Health Canada’s accountability on this arguably fraudulent behavior.
But Wait There is More
Despite the fact that this plain packaging lie is likely a done deal and soon to become law, Health Canada is not one to rest on its laurels. More unjustified, world-precedent victories are to be had.
Health Canada has just recently initiated a new round of public consultations on New health-Related Labelling for Tobacco Products. Those who have the strength and courage to witness what your government has in store for you next, can see Health Canada’s proposal at the following link: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-tobacco-labelling/document.html
One of the focuses of this newly proposed policy direction is to have warnings directly printed on the tobacco products themselves. It sounds absurd, because it is absurd. And here again, if you work for a tobacco company, if you own or work for a store that sells tobacco, if you consume tobacco products – you are officially disqualified from sharing your opinions with Health Canada on eventual law that will come to directly impact your life and/or livelihood.
If You Are Tired of Being Bullied, Dismissed and Discarded
If being discriminated against is a relevant issue to you – then take the time to immediately contact the people below and tell them that enough is enough, that you are tired of being bullied into submission and that this is Canada. All Canadians have the right to consideration and equitable treatment – no matter their (legal) life choices.
If you are a retailer, you can contact us and we will send you an easy to print poster that you can put up in your store – encouraging your tobacco consumers to also contact the government and let them know how they feel about being further stigmatized and marginalized.
IF YOU ARE FED UP WITH BEING DISMISSED AND DISCARDED BY YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT – let us know if you would wish to participate in a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on this matter of discrimination. Let’s hold Health Canada accountable to treating all Canadians equally and to repealing their publicly stated discrimination policy against Canadians associated with the legal tobacco industry.
PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
MINISTER OF HEALTH
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Luc Martial is a 27-year veteran of the tobacco control file in Canada, having held key postings in the tobacco control and national health communities, the federal government (Tobacco Control Program at Health Canada) and the industry.