Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me as the member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre and as a physician to speak in support of Bill C-24.
Members have heard the hon. parliamentary secretary speak about the details of the bill. On the surface it might seem the bill is just about labelling and information but it is more than that. This bill is more than simple words on a piece of paper or on a bit of cardboard. It is about what those words say. It is about what those words mean and how important those words are to the user of this product.
What those words describe is what I want to discuss during my time in this debate. Let me start with a short list: carbon monoxide, lead, hydrogen cyanide, benzene, arsenic. These are all deadly components. Each one of them can kill. They are just five of the more than 4,000 chemical compounds scientists have found in tobacco smoke. They are just five of the compounds that contribute to the over 40,000 deaths a year caused by tobacco use.
How do these Canadians die? They die of lung cancer, bladder cancer, heart disease, aneurysms, pneumonia, emphysema, sudden infant death syndrome and fire. There are over 22 diseases associated with smoking and the effects of smoking know no age barrier. Health Canada estimates that the dangers of low birth weight and chronic respiratory illness show that smoking affects the fetus in utero. About 200 infants under the age of one died in 1991 as a result of exposure to tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke. Death from cancer is no surprise because tobacco smoke contains more than 50 known carcinogens. Lung cancer has now overtaken breast cancer as the number one cause of death among women.
The health impact goes further. Scientists have discovered that other chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke actually cause permanent changes to the genetic material of living cells and hence to the fetus. These compounds come from a variety of sources. About half of these compounds appear naturally in green tobacco leaves. The other half comes from the chemical reactions that come from combustion. Some compounds are produced as part of the curing of tobacco.
Smokers may not realize that when they look at the smoke curling up from their cigarettes what they see constitutes less than 10 per cent of the output of that cigarette. What they do not see is more frightening, the gases and even liquids produced by the burning tobacco and the paper.
We need to tell Canadians about the impact of these toxic compounds on their bodies. We need to tell them about the carbon monoxide produced when tobacco burns, this colourless, odourless gas that kills because it starves the body of oxygen.
A cigarette is an incinerator producing hundreds of chemicals, including tar, cancer causing tar, as it should be rightly known. We need to tell Canadians that cancer causing tar in tobacco products contains hundreds of chemicals, some of which are actually hazardous waste. We need to inform Canadians their bodies are not and should not be toxic waste dumps.
The list of toxic constituents in cigarettes goes on and on. We need to tell Canadians about ammonia. It may be great for household training but it could increase the odds of getting viral illness, and so it does with smokers. It can aggravate chronic respiratory conditions in both a smoker and those around a smoker breathing in that second hand smoke.
We need to tell Canadians about hydrogen cyanide. This is among the most toxic of the components in the witch's brew that comes out of tobacco smoke. Short term exposure to hydrogen cyanide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and yet we continue to do this in small amounts every day when we smoke cigarettes.
We need to tell Canadians about lead. We know how much governments have tried to cut lead emissions because of the harm they can cause children. Lead is found in tobacco smoke to which children are exposed. As we have made laws and regulations as governments to get rid of lead in the environment, lesser known sources of lead become very important. One of these sources is cigarettes.
Not only smokers but children living with smokers have shown to have elevated blood levels. Canadian children are being exposed daily to a substance that has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, birth defects, allergies, learning problems, chronic respiratory disease and adult asthma.
The information we now have on the toxic constituents of tobacco products is the result of a generation of research. We are learning every day more and more about the hazardous effects of this product. Research projects funded by the tobacco demand reduction strategy, which examined the trends over the last 25 years of the nicotine content of cigarettes and in tobacco smoke using cigarette samples that have been collected and stored over the past two decades, have shown us that between 1968 and 1989 the level of nicotine in tobacco used in cigarettes has increased by 53 per cent. The average amount of tobacco used in each cigarette has decreased by 14 per cent. The level of nicotine in tobacco smoke fluctuated significantly at several points during the study period.
Other trends in the marketing of tobacco products have affected the level of exposure of smokers to other toxic substances. The cigarette filter was the first of these trends. Some of my hon. colleagues may remember a time when most cigarettes were unfiltered. It was hardly surprising that most people found them harsh and hard on the throat. Filters have been introduced, some with flavours such as menthol. However, we must not forget that tobacco smoke is harsh. It is a chemical soup that is bad for everyone.
Another important trend in the growth of tobacco products is the so-called light or low yield cigarettes which reduce the amount of smoke inhaled by smokers. On the surface this would seem to be a terrific thing. The less smokers inhale, obviously the lower the risk. It is not that simple. These light cigarettes may encourage people to keep smoking and even to smoke more. They can appear to be healthier than other tobacco products. By picking up any American magazine we can see that light cigarettes are marketed in a manner that creates the appearance the manufacturer is trying to address the concerns of smokers about health issues and to reach out to women. The recent books, articles and exposés about tobacco marketing point this out again and again, and yet this attempt to confuse the facts continues to this day.
The survey of smoking in Canada funded by the Health Canada tobacco demand reduction strategy shows that smokers make certain assumptions about a cigarette that is labelled as light. The survey of smoking in Canada found that slightly less than 35 per cent of Canadian smokers assumed that light means less tar. About 45 per cent believed that light means less nicotine. They may be right in some cases but they may not be in others. If there is any reduction it is marginal at best.
Smoking a light or mild cigarette is like jumping off a 20 storey building instead of a 30 storey building. The result is the same. Light and mild are just marketing subjective terms referring to taste and aroma and have no real meaning at all from a health perspective.
The perception that mild cigarettes may be safer points out an important issue in the debate. How should we regulate tobacco products so they can say what they mean so the user is fully and objectively informed of the product itself?
Some people have suggested we should bring in legislation that limits tobacco to certain amounts of tar and nicotine. In effect they want us to enforce a certain degree of lightness for all tobacco products. Research into smoking behaviour suggests regulating the lightness of cigarettes might have the opposite effect. It can lull smokers into believing they can take comfort from the fact that each cigarette would have a lower quantity of the bad stuff in it, they can smoke more and be no worse off than they are now. Some people might even take up smoking under the mistaken and potentially tragic belief it was now safe to do so because the cigarette is so light.
A variety of methods will be needed if we as a society are to understand and address the reasons so many people smoke. We need to appreciate that people smoke for reasons that appear to be rooted in psychological and socio-environmental factors, as well as the physiological addiction to nicotine.
However, product and outcome information is an important element in helping smokers stop smoking. That is the point of Bill C-24. Information is not always enough. It is only one part of a comprehensive public health approach to smoking cessation. It does and has helped many Canadians give up tobacco and deterred young Canadians from starting to smoke. Information will continue to help Canadians to understand the facts about tobacco disease. Understanding what they are smoking and what they are putting into their mouths is very important in understanding how it can harm them.
If the health warnings the bill makes possible encourage even a few people a day to follow through and quit smoking, they are achieving their purposes. We will do more research and gather more evidence about the impact of tobacco smoke on the human body. As we do this we can use the mechanisms set up in Bill C-24 in our warnings against users to improve and increase the kind of information on the packages. This bill is only the start.
Under the blueprint for tobacco control the government has indicated a number of measures and approaches within a comprehensive strategy which are worth considering. Do not forget, looking at tobacco cessation is part of a general public health strategy. Public health strategies deal with prevention, education, awareness, information, treatment of disease, rehabilitation from the disease. This is part of a major comprehensive strategy to look at the use of tobacco. The toxic constituents of tobacco smoke will therefore continue to be part of that information arsenal we must employ.
I know members will say the information may seem like the same old message. It is not. Health researchers have learned more and more about tobacco since the first time we put messages on the tobacco packages. We know far more about smoking and what it does to our health. We can now confirm that smoking is bad for the smoker but, even worse, smoking is just as bad for the non-smoker.
It is very important to note that 350 non-smoking Canadians a year die due to diseases caused by second hand smoke. Every year over 40,000 Canadians, over 3 million smokers in the world, die as a result of tobacco smoking; 5,000 people a year in my province of British Columbia alone die as a result of smoking. We see all the morbidity and the disease which cost the health care substantial amounts as people are smoking more and more.
Getting that information to the smoker and the non-smoker, the lethal negative issues of this product, is extremely important. One of the ways we can do it is through health warnings on cigarette packages. This would be a step in the right direction. Placing labels on and inserts in cigarette packages is an important public health initiative. It is an important part of education and prevention strategies. I urge all hon. members to support the bill and to help prevent the most preventable cause of death and disease in the world.