Mr. Speaker, on December 12 of last year, I rose in the House to ask a question of the Minister of Health concerning the promise that the government had made some time previously. In fact it was the former minister of health, now the Minister of Industry, who made a promise to ban light and mild labels on cigarette packages.
Since then, I pointed out that big tobacco companies threatened the government to sue under chapter 11 of NAFTA if the ban went ahead. I asked the Minister for International Trade when the government would stand up for the health of Canadians, ban these deceptive labels and get rid of NAFTA laws that allowed big corporations to threaten to sue the Canadian government under chapter 11 for protecting the health and environment of Canadians.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health stood up and gave one of the most incomprehensible replies that I can recall in my years in the House. He basically said that this was a very complex question, it was a difficult issue and he would look into it.
Today, the hon. parliamentary secretary is here in the House and I hope he has had an opportunity over the course of the last three months to enlighten himself as to the seriousness of this issue. What we are talking about is the need to ensure that tobacco companies are unable to engage in deceptive advertising. The European Union has already moved on this front and as I understand it the European Union is banning these labels of light and mild on cigarettes this year. I believe Brazil has already banned these labels as well.
We in the New Democratic Party have to ask for what the government is waiting. Why is it allowing the tobacco lobby to push it around at the expense of the health of Canadians? The fact of the matter is that the cigarette industry is a killer industry. Far from backing off on this, health groups across Canada have urged the government to toughen up the regulation, which was proposed many months ago. In fact it was in December 2001 that the former minister of health proposed a regulation.
However, what is happening is that Canadians are dying as a result of the false belief that light and mild products are safer than full strength cigarettes. The Non-Smokers' Rights Association and many other organizations, including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, have urged the government to finally move ahead on this. It promised to take action. What is the delay? Why is it? Is it knuckling under to the threats of the tobacco companies that it will be sued under NAFTA's chapter 11?
We want answers to these questions and Canadians want answers to these questions today. There are major lawsuits underway already in the United States and Israel which accuse the tobacco industry of consumer fraud for its mislabelling of cigarettes. A major landmark decision just in the last few days in Chicago reaffirmed this.
I am calling on the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health to stand up on behalf of the health of Canadians and to have stronger regulations to make it clear that this is not about high tar and low tar. We should get rid of this deception, these illusions, this dishonest, deceitful advertising by the tobacco industry, ban it once and for all and stand up and protect the health of Canadians.