Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-260, important legislation that has to do with the fire safety of cigarettes, the flammability standards of cigarettes.
In February 1916 a fire destroyed our Parliament. The only building that survived was the Library and some charred wings of the north and west buildings. It was a disaster for the Canadian people and for those who worked in Parliament.
There was no official cause for the Parliament of Canada burning down but it was widely believed that the fire was caused by careless smoking. The fire was caused by a cigarette that set a piece of furniture on fire. The fire quickly spread throughout this institution.
Every year we hear about horrific fires throughout our country where there is a loss of life, injury and enormous property damage, and frequently they are attributed to careless smoking. Someone falls asleep and leaves a cigarette unattended and the house burns down with the children in it. It is virtually impossible to turn on the evening news without a reference to some fire that has visited some horrible tragedy on some relatively innocent family.
Is it really careless smoking? Cigarette companies have known for years how to eliminate death and injury by changing the density of tobacco and making modifications to the paper. They do not do it simply because there is no requirement in Canada to force tobacco companies to make fire safe cigarettes.
This might seem like a contradiction in terms, a fire safe cigarette, but let me explain. Changing the density of the tobacco and the quality of the paper will not impair the enjoyment of the cigarette. The lighting and the smoking of the cigarette is not changed. What is changed is the burn if the cigarette is not puffed. In other words, the person would have to continue to puff the cigarette for it to stay alive, otherwise it will simply extinguish on its own. If a person abandons the cigarette for a period of time it will simply extinguish.
If a regular cigarette is abandoned on an ashtray, when a person comes back it is nothing but ashes. If a fire safe cigarette is abandoned on an ashtray, when a person comes back there will still be a butt left that can be relit and smoked.
As we can readily imagine, if a cigarette is abandoned on a piece of furniture there may well be a disastrous situation on our hands when we return. The situation may be even more disastrous situation if we were to fall asleep. We may end up waking to find the furniture on fire. Had the person been smoking a fire safe cigarette, the cigarette would have extinguished itself and no harm would have been done.
This all seems fairly simple; fire safe cigarettes versus ones that are hazards to people, their property and the environment. It looks like a good idea. It seems like a good idea. What is the problem?
Frankly, I am sort of bewildered myself. I do not know why this initiative was not taken earlier and why we should not amend the Hazardous Products Act so Canadians will not continue to lose their lives due to hazardous smoking.
I am sure big tobacco companies will dream up some reason that this is not such a good idea but, I respectfully suggest, the credibility of big tobacco on pretty well every issue is similar to that of an Enron accountant.
Interestingly big tobacco had no serious reservations about similar New York legislation that mandated fire safe cigarettes by mid-year 2003. Its only objection was that it was state legislation rather than federal legislation. Obviously that is not the problem here.
Our New York colleagues in the New York State legislature passed a similar bill sixty to nothing. I do not know how the New York State legislature works but I would imagine it is similar to here, and to get a unanimous vote on a bill is an extraordinary accomplishment.
The New York State legislation prohibits the sale of any cigarette that does not meet flammability standards. It is a very tough piece of legislation. Our New York colleagues deserve our congratulations for their stand in the face of big tobacco and its unseemly influence on legislators.
The Globe and Mail , in commenting on a class action lawsuit filed by a Toronto area lawyer representing a Brampton family devastated by a fire, summarized the judicial reasoning as follows:
However, the technology exists to make fire-safe cigarettes, the kind that go out quickly when not puffed. If most manufacturers prefer to make ones that burn down even when they're not being smoked, that's their choice, but choices have consequences.
Further on, the editorial quotes Judge Cumming, who was reviewing a class action application on the issue. He was quoted as saying:
that cigarettes have a design defect, and that "manufacturers have deliberately designed the product in such a way as to cause misuse
That is pretty clear and it kind of puts the axe to the concept of careless smoking.
MLA Therien from the Canada Safety Council wrote to me and said:
The Canada Safety Council has been a strong advocate for fire safe cigarettes for an extended period of time. By failing to regulate the ignition properties of all cigarettes, Canada is missing a prime opportunity to prevent fires and deaths. Without question, mandating fire safe cigarettes will prove to be a reasonable and effective safety countermeasure.
When I appeared before the subcommittee on private members' bills I showed a CBC clip from a documentary entitled Smokes and Fire . It is pretty graphic. In addition to the scenes of huge personal and family devastation, there is a demonstration of two cigarettes lying on two identical pieces of furniture. The camera is trained on the furniture, the cigarettes and a clock behind the furniture. The fire-safe cigarette peters out and does no harm to the furniture. The ordinary cigarette causes the furniture to inflame within about 45 minutes. It is a pity that our modernization will not allow members in the Chamber to view this video tape.
After seeing the tape, the member for Fraser Valley commented upon his experience as a logger. Apparently loggers roll their own cigarettes for this very reason. The tobacco is not packed as densely and the paper is not as flammable. Therefore loggers are not at risk of inadvertently lighting a forest fire. It can be done and, if there is a will, it will be done.
Bill C-260 will test the will of Parliament and the will of the minister. The bill calls for the minister to proclaim flammability for cigarettes by a certain date. If she does not then the minister must report back to Parliament with an explanation of why not, a list of fire safe legislation in North America and summaries of scientific studies that have been received by the minister to establish flammability standards.
There are several options open to the minister, pursuant to the bill. The minister can amend the Hazardous Products Act and we can all take a day off and feel that we have gone one tiny step further in securing the health and well-being of all Canadians. On the other hand the minister could say she is not interested and, in theory at least, decide to do that. However in my conversations with the minister she has shown a great deal of interest in the subject matter of this bill. She could make the suggestion that the tobacco act be amended as opposed to the Hazardous Products Act. Reasonable people can disagree as to which route should be chosen. I made a choice that it be the Hazardous Products Act rather than the tobacco act because I thought it to be an easier regulatory route to pursue this interest.
While this is not an emergency, and I would not describe this as an emergency, it is a matter of some urgency. Each year literally dozens of Canadians die, hundreds of Canadians are injured and there are millions of dollars in property damage. In the last year that I have statistics for, which is 1992, it showed 62 fatalities, 385 injuries and $37 million in property damage caused by smoking related fires.
All of the above could be completely eliminated or substantially reduced by forcing tobacco companies to meet certain flammability standards. I cannot imagine what MP in the House or what minister would not interested in saving lives or securing the safety of Canadians. I keep wondering what could possibly be the objection.
This is clearly a matter that is within federal jurisdiction. It does avoid the American trap of having state by state legislation. This is of national interest. It seems a little silly to have it state by state because in certain states there would be a fire safe cigarette and in other states there would not be, so people would have to be careful about where they fell asleep.
Every year that we let this go more Canadians die and are injured needlessly, and more property damage is incurred needlessly.
This is a relatively simple piece of legislation. I commend it to members and I ask them to give serious thought to the idea that this should go to the committee immediately. I am asking members publicly, and I hope to be able to speak to them over the course of this hour, to give serious thought to send it to committee by unanimous consent so that we can review the subject matter of the bill in a timely way so that the safety of Canadians is secured.