Madam Speaker, I am addressing the House today to reaffirm Health Canada's position concerning Bill C-260 as well as to provide the House with a status update concerning the development of regulations to mandate certain reduced ignition propensity cigarettes. I would also like to provide the House with a summary of the supporting activities presently being conducted by Health Canada.
First, I want to thank and congratulate the hon. member for Scarborough East for bringing this issue forward. He has certainly put a lot of time and energy into raising the whole issue of fires caused by unattended cigarettes. For this effort, we certainly thank him.
Let me begin by saying that one of Health Canada's mandates has always been to reduce health hazards where tobacco products are concerned. Over 14,000 fires were started by unattended cigarettes between 1995 and 1999. The death toll for these fires was over 350. Another 1,600 people were injured. These numbers account for the majority of deaths and injuries caused by household fires. The resulting damage to property is estimated at over $200 million.
Some of the measures Health Canada has taken include a prevention by public education strategy. The department has also prompted the regulation of ignition sources, such as lighters and matches, and has restricted or banned flammable consumer products. These include materials used in mattresses, bedding and textiles. The department has also worked closely with the Canadian Council of Furniture Manufacturers to reduce flammability of upholstered furniture.
The final step is to mandate regulations that would force manufacturers to produce cigarettes that are less likely to cause fires. This kind of product is known as reduced ignition propensity cigarettes.
Over the course of the last year and further to recent consultations with other interested parties, Health Canada has made significant progress toward implementing ignition propensity regulations. It has found that there are some concerns which merit further attention. However, none of these are enough to preclude the development of regulations. It is expected that regulations will be proposed in the very near future.
The first formal step taken in the regulatory process was in December of last year. Health Canada released a public consultation paper seeking input on the issue of reduced fire risks from cigarettes. This document gave all interested parties an opportunity to express their concerns and also their priorities.
The feedback Health Canada received was mixed. Firefighters and non-governmental organizations were very supportive of the proposal. Although its main complaint was that government was initially too slow to take action, the comments the department received from the tobacco industry also indicated support for the proposals and the objectives.
However, the industry in this public consultation process raised concerns over issues ranging from methodology for testing to unsafe behavioural tendencies in which consumers might engage.
I would like to take a moment to address some of these concerns and offer some insight into the steps and activities that Health Canada has undertaken to address some of these issues.
The current test method has been put into question. After an extensive dialogue with experts, Health Canada maintains that the method being used by the American Society for the Testing of Materials is based on very sound scientific theory and is the best method for measuring the ignition propensity of cigarettes.
Also concerns over toxicity levels have been raised. Upon further investigation, Health Canada has concluded that the available eligible data indicates that there is no significant variation in the toxicity of reduced ignition propensity cigarettes. Due to the importance of this issue, Health Canada is considering mandatory toxicological testing throughout the implementation of the regulations to have access to sound data.
Some concern has also been expressed regarding consumer behaviour. The apprehension which was raised is that reduced ignition propensity cigarettes could mislead the consumer into believing that cigarettes no longer pose a fire hazard, leading, of course, to consumer carelessness. To date no scientific data has been provided to support this claim, and based on what I think of the assertion it would be highly unlikely that there would be any kind of empirical evidence to support this assertion.
Health Canada plans to deal with the issue by establishing fire safety and behavioural baselines. The references are twofold. The department is developing a questionnaire to measure the current behaviour of smokers and is also at the same time using data from the Ontario fire marshal's office to establish conclusive statistics regarding the nature of cigarette fires in Ontario. This will give Health Canada a basis of comparison once regulations have been implemented and will ultimately indicate possible behavioural changes in smokers.
Over the course of the last year, as has already been mentioned here this afternoon, ignition propensity testing has been performed on 62 brands of cigarettes sold in the Canadian marketplace. Only one brand has shown a significant reduction in ignition propensity.
A cost benefit assessment is also well underway. The department recently sent a questionnaire to affected stakeholders to ask for their input into cost assessment. This assessment is expected to be completed in about three or four weeks.
Let us now turn to Bill C-260. The intention of Bill C-260 is also to prevent the loss of life due to fires caused by smoking. The debate surrounding the bill has been a little enigmatic, in that we all agree something must be done, but the question we are faced with is how it should be done. That is the issue.
The position of Health Canada from the very beginning has been that the regulation of reduced ignition propensity cigarettes should fall under the Tobacco Act. There are many reasons for this line of thinking.
Among them is the fact that Health Canada has developed and implemented the federal tobacco control strategy. That would be the very best way to deal with this issue: to get people to substantially reduce smoking or to stop all together. This strategy allows Canadians to deal with tobacco-related issues by adopting a comprehensive, integrated and sustained approach. This way, the regulation of cigarettes falls under one single piece of legislation. There are several advantages to this.
Among these advantages is that of a comprehensive regulatory framework. In short, the legislative apparatus to achieve effective tobacco control strategies is, as everyone in the House is aware, already in place. This makes acting expediently considerably easier.
There is one final point I would like to make. The Hazardous Products Act sets out to deal with harmful products in two very specific ways: by regulating these products to make them safe or by simply banning them from the market all together.
One can begin to see the difficulty in incorporating cigarettes into this legislation. Regulating cigarettes to make them safe is neither feasible nor possible and makes very little common sense. Cigarettes by their very nature are a dangerous product, whether that danger is from inhaling the smoke they produce or from sustaining injuries in the fires they start. Altering them for ignition propensity is one thing. However, altering them to render the smoke safe is entirely another goal, a goal no one would know how to achieve. We may be setting a precedent that would allow other products that do not fit the model to be included in this act.
Likewise, at this point in time in the evolution of society, banning cigarettes would be difficult. It would be like banning paint additives or banning glue. Tobacco is an addictive substance. By banning it, we would be instantly turning 20% of our population into criminals.
Health Canada has demonstrated that the process to regulate ignition propensity is well underway and the mechanisms to achieve this are already in place. Cigarettes are a unique product with their own unique act. It is clear that cigarettes do not fit into the model that the Hazardous Products Act outlines. Health Canada will continue to work on measures dealing with ignition propensity that fall under the Tobacco Act.
On a global scale, Health Canada is a world leader in tobacco control. It has demonstrated this through its continued efforts and through a strong commitment to improve the well-being of Canadian citizens.