Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's comments on tobacco. We share some opinions on this subject.
Going back to my training in medical school, the very first patient assigned to me was a fellow in a veterans hospital. They would not turn us loose on just anyone and I was turned loose on this wonderful fellow who had emphysema. He and I became fairly close. I spent lots of time with him and even went in on the weekends to talk with him. He had been a heavy smoker and really had that disease directly as a result of tobacco.
As we became closer and related one to the other, it was obvious he was coming close to death. During his last few lucid moments he said to me: "Do not let the kids start to smoke". I will never forget that. It had an impact on me throughout my medical career.
I look at legislation and the efforts of the government in that light. What will those efforts do in relation to keeping the kids from smoking? Looking back at the record on smoking in Canada we see it is pretty good. The prevalence of smoking has been going down for about the past 25 years. It has been dropping at a nice steady rate. Almost 50 per cent of Canada's population used to smoke and it is now down to pretty close to 30 per cent.
However, that nice smooth flow downward has had a tick upward. The tick upward can be directly related to a change in tobacco prices in Canada. I know the price was changed to try to cut down on smuggling. However, the price sensitivity for our youth caused them to smoke more. In one year, we lost five years of a drop in smoking prevalence. That is a record which I do not think my colleague across the way should be proud of. It is one he should hang his head on. I hope he can right that loss of five years of prevalence drop we had in one year.
Bill C-24 is designed to bring back the labelling that could have been lost with the change in the judicial action on the Tobacco Products Control Act. This bill is a status quo bill except that the warnings will be attributed, if the tobacco companies agree, to Health Canada.
What about the blueprint? The blueprint was presented to the Canadian public with a significant amount of fanfare. The previous health minister, not so long ago in December last year held a major press conference wherein she announced the blueprint. I remember well she said: "I have new information that will withstand any court challenge, new information that will prove that advertising of tobacco products really is bad news".
I thought that was great. I wrote to the health minister literally that week asking for the new data. If I remember the words that I used, I said that I would like to become a slobbering supporter of the blueprint. Possibly my choice of words was a little flippant but what I wanted to say was that I would love to be an enthusiastic supporter of the blueprint.
Nothing came. There was no reply. I could understand if the minister had said that she did not want this information to be used for political purposes and that she would release it at the appropriate time. I can understand the minister saying that it was in process, but I did not get a response.
The new minister came along. I sent the new minister my congratulatory letter. It is polite in Parliament to write a letter to the new minister. I said: "Congratulations for your new responsibilities. I hope we will have a long and productive life together and an interesting interchange. Please could you provide me with the new data that was suggested at the press conference, this exciting new data that will withstand a court challenge? I want to be an enthusiastic supporter of the blueprint".
I did get a response, after about three months. It was not immediate. I did not get the reaction I had hoped, but I did get a personal response from the minister who said: "We can meet together possibly in late June to go over the data so that you can understand. This is complex." At least there has been some response.
I read in press reports today that there is some problem with the blueprint while the government is finishing its homework. I am puzzled by this. Usually when there is a major press conference, usually when there is a big time announcement, usually they have done their homework first. The current minister said: "It would be foolhardy to move forward without having done our homework. Unfortunately it was not done when I arrived".
I am puzzled. This is a government with massive resources, a government with research capabilities par excellence. I have gone into the data and cannot and have not yet found the information that was promised to me. I have done my own research. I do not have those huge research capabilities. I wonder, going back to that press
conference, was the homework really done or was it an announcement to make someone look better?
The parliamentary secretary has eloquently talked about the health warnings, the addictive nature of smoking, the health problems and that it is highly complex. I wrote these words down as he was going through his address. There is a powerful lobby of printers, artists, the tobacco companies and the health interests. There are big bucks involved and lots of money involved with taxes. Indeed it is a complex subject. Still on tobacco products in Canada we warn of the health risks.
I am also puzzled because recently Bill C-222, by the member for Mississauga South, was before the health committee. This bill was also about health warnings, different warnings on booze, on alcohol. I could go through the list of issues that are related to tobacco and apply them to alcohol: addictive nature, health problems, highly complex, powerful lobby, big bucks. I think those things fit with the alcohol industry.
The member for Mississauga South put forth compelling evidence that fetal alcohol syndrome where there is an innocent bystander could well be affected by health warnings, yet the health warnings were scrubbed on alcohol. The previous minister in this case was strongly supportive. I do not know if the present minister caved in to pressures outside the health interests. I can only presume that. In the press release that came from the department the principle of this bill was supported but the mechanism was uncertain. It is a subtle change in wording but I am not convinced. If labels work for smokes, labels should work for booze.
If Bill C-24 passes intellectual scrutiny as the parliamentary secretary so eloquently stated, then Bill C-222 concerning warning labels on alcohol in reference to fetal alcohol syndrome should also. I ask my colleagues across the way, where is the consistency?