Mr. Speaker, obviously I will have a little more time to answer than I had during oral question period. I will try to shed some light on this important issue raised by my colleague.
While scientists agree that cigarettes labelled light or mild are as harmful as regular cigarettes and do not reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths, we know that approximately 18% of Canadians continue to believe that they are less harmful. Tobacco producers have spent millions of dollars to promote this comforting but misleading impression regarding a dangerous product.
Obviously this is a very important issue and I agree we must act. However, as I said in my answer, it is also a very complex issue and we need to learn more about the effects these labels have on patterns of tobacco use.
On December 1, 2001, Health Canada held public consultations on the government's intentions to establish regulations that would prohibit using labels such as “light” and “mild” on tobacco product packaging.
Briefs were received and reviewed. Health Canada sponsored three studies to better understand consumers and their feelings, and to establish the effects of these labels.
Now, even if there are grounds to believe that, in the past, these labels stopped some people from quitting and that banning these labels might have beneficial effects for public health, more research is required, and it is underway.
In the meantime, Health Canada has continued its public education activities using the media, newspaper ads, pamphlets for Canadian physicians and information on the anti-tobacco web site, in order to continue to reduce tobacco use.
We continue to monitor developments and to gather information. Because we are determined to protect the health of Canadians, we will take steps as soon as we are sure they will be effective. It is important to take steps, but equally important that they be effective.
Our research continues and we want to be sure we have all the necessary information for a successful defence against the tobacco industry, should it challenge our regulations. For the moment, we will continue to inform the public on the dangers associated with use of this product.
It must be kept in mind, however, that it is essential to have a solid foundation before taking any action, and to ensure that the steps taken by Health Canada are effective and achieve our objectives.
I hope that this sheds some light on the matter. Instead of making blind decisions, I think we need to take the trouble to seriously consider all of the implications that this could have, so that when we do come up with a position, we are on solid ground.