Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act.
On April 23, in an effort to hold the government to account, I submitted a question to the order paper asking two things.
First, what is the government's strategy to combat the illegal cigarette trade and ensure tobacco control?
Second, what has the government done to follow through on the September 17, 2008, commitment to ban flavoured tobacco products that appeal to children and ban tobacco advertising in print and electronic media that can be seen and read by our youth?
While it appears that Bill C-32 does little to answer my first question, which I will address shortly, it is clear that the bill seeks to amend the Tobacco Act to provide the additional protection of youth from tobacco marketing and the other things as the hon. member mentioned.
Bill C-32 was introduced last Thursday before World No Tobacco Day. The bill is also part of the federal tobacco control strategy, the government's policy framework to reduce death and disease caused by tobacco use, slated for 2011.
I am pleased that on World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization decided to promote the evidence-based approach by the former minister of health, Allan Rock, on the graphic labelling of cigarette packages. We know that tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. More than five million people die from the effects of tobacco every year. That is more than those who die from HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Up to half of all smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease. Second-hand smoke harms everyone who is exposed to it.
Tobacco companies spend tens of millions of dollars every year turning new users into addicts and keeping current users from quitting. Through advertising and promotional campaigns, including the use of carefully crafted package designs, the tobacco industry continues to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products. More and more countries are fighting back by requiring that tobacco packages graphically show the dangers of tobacco, as we have done in Canada, and have called for the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. They use the MPower technical assistance package developed by the World Health Organization to meet their commitments under this international treaty.
Effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and reduce the appeal of tobacco for those who are not yet addicted. Despite this fact, nine out of ten people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Warning people about its true risks can go a long way toward reducing tobacco addiction. Requiring warnings on tobacco packages is a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives.
Tobacco use is still too prevalent. Tobacco does a great deal of harm and is responsible for the deaths of 37,000 Canadians every year, deaths that could be prevented.
Additionally, in 2008, over three billion more contraband cigarettes were sold in Canada than in 2007, three billion cigarettes that are now more available to Canadian youth.
Contraband cigarettes cost the Canadian government nearly $2.4 billion a year in lost revenue that could be invested quite usefully in programs and health research.
I hope that in writing Bill C-32 and engaging thorough stakeholder consultations rather than information sessions, the government sought to push for more interdepartmental coordination, re-evaluated the failed enforcement strategy that has seen the number of contraband cigarettes rise rapidly and pushed for the cheap and effective strategy of warning labels on tobacco packages. It is not enough for the government to ban something without finding out about and dealing with the other places where this same product can come into Canada, in the same way that we are fighting so terribly about contraband cigarettes.
Right now on the playgrounds in Ontario, 48.6% of cigarette butts found are contraband, illegal cigarettes that kids are buying out of duffle bags in the parking lot for $6 a carton. This is the way kids are getting addicted. This bill is a good first step to deal with flavoured tobacco, but it will do nothing unless the government actually works much harder to deal first-hand with contraband cigarettes.
Bill C-32 repeals the exemption that permits tobacco advertising in publications with an adult readership of not less than 85%. It prohibits the packaging, importation for sale, distribution and sale of little cigars and blunt wraps unless they are in a package that contains at least 20 units. We know the price point for tobacco is very important to children. Long ago we eliminated the kiddie packs and now it is important to ensure that this also applies to cigars and blunt wraps.
It also prohibits the manufacture and sale of cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps that contain the additives set out in a new schedule to the act, as well as the packaging of those products in a manner that suggests that they contain a prohibited additive. It also prohibits the manufacture and sale of tobacco products unless all the required information about their composition is submitted to the minister.
Bill C-32 also aims at protecting children and youth from tobacco industry marketing practices that encourage them to use tobacco products. These marketing practices included the use of flavourings and additives that would appeal to children and youth, the availability of little cigars and blunt wraps, sheets or tubes or tobacco in small quantities and kiddie packs and an increasing number of tobacco ads in daily newspapers and free entertainment weeklies.
Little cigars, also known as cigarillos and blunt wraps, are marketed today with fruit flavours such as grape, cherry, peach, banana split, tropical punch and additives such as vitamins, sugar and others that taste like candy that mask the harshest of the tobacco and appeal to children and youth.
Research from both American sources and the tobacco industry's own internal documents released through court cases indicate that the addition of fruit and candy flavours to tobacco products make them more appealing to new users. The tobacco industry's internal documents show that flavours and additives increase the “try factor”.
There is no question that California ads that portray tobacco industry executives corralling youth or sitting in smoky boardrooms saying, “Our customers are dying off, we had better go get the young ones”, has been clearly demonstrated with the advent of these truly sinister products.
This is a growing problem. Wholesale sales of little cigars have increased from 53 million units in 2001 to 403 million units in 2007, making them the fastest growing tobacco product on the Canadian market. Bill C-32 would amend the Tobacco Act by prohibiting the addition to little cigars, cigarettes and blunt wraps of fruit flavours and additives that would appeal to children and youth. It would also prohibit the representation of these flavours and additives on the package, such as a picture or a graphic.
The amended Tobacco Act would also provide Health Canada the flexibility, through governor in council authority, to ban other appealing additives or include other product categories in the flavour ban at any time in the future if the evidence indicated that these were serving as inducements to youth.
Regarding minimum package requirements, unlike cigarettes that must be sold in packages of 20, little cigars and blunt wraps are often sold individually and priced as little as $1. Bill C-32 would amend the Tobacco Act by extending the minimum quantity provisions that exist for cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps, requiring they be packaged in quantities of at least 20. This change would end the industry practice of selling these products in single or small kiddie packs that are attractive youth because of their cheaper price.
Regarding advertising, although there are currently restrictions on tobacco advertising in both print and electronic formats, the tobacco industry has been taking full advantage of an exemption allowing them to advertise in publications that have at least 85% adult readership. A recent resurgence of tobacco advertising, over 400 ads nationwide between November 2007 and December 2008, has exposed youth audiences to tobacco sales pitches.
Full colour tobacco ads have been appearing in daily newspapers, magazines and in free entertainment weekly papers. The free entertainment papers are available to anybody by way of a curb-side box, making it impossible to restrict access by children or determine if the readership is at least 85% adult.
Between November 2007 and December 2008, tobacco companies spent approximately $4.47 million to place nationwide ads in print publications, a dramatic increase from the amount spent in the previous 14 months. The proposed legislation will repeal this exemption that allows tobacco ads to be placed in a print publication, again with adult readership of not less than 85%.
The legislation to ban flavoured tobacco is important. However, in many areas it misses the point. In my order paper question I asked whether the government would develop a strategy to combat contraband tobacco. It is clear that Bill C-32 simply would add regulations and would do little to keep contraband out of the hands of children. It makes the legal industry deal with the problem caused by the illegal industry. As we know, children are unable to purchase the legal product.
I agree with the stakeholder groups such as the Ontario Korean Businessmen's Association, which claims that Bill C-32 will have no impact on the true problem, how children start smoking in the first place. It is the illegal product that causes the rise in consumption and the government continues to do nothing to combat the wave of illegal manufactured cigarettes from being distributed in high schools for, as I said, as little as $6 a carton. In fact, we have seen flyers where people can dial for a carton, except it is not in a carton. It is a garbage bag full of cheap cigarettes delivered right to one's door. We know these are the same organizations that also deal in guns and drugs and this must be stopped.
The Ontario Korean Businessmen's Association says that it does not work. If a person calls the local police, it takes six hours for a police officer to get there. These business people can actually see people selling things right outside their stores. There needs to be at least a 1-800 number and a task force, for which the RCMP called, where all levels of policing could come together to deal once and for all with this dangerous and illegal trade.
The RCMP has also called for the dismantling of the illegal manufacturing sites and called for a multi-jurisdictional department task force. Yet the government has issued licences to illegal operations to make them legal and the task force apparently has never met.
As I mentioned before, illegal tobacco costs taxpayers $2.4 billion a year in lost tax revenue and undermines every single tobacco control law and regulation currently being administered by the federal and provincial governments.
The sale of illegal tobacco is more than just a tobacco industry issue. This growing trade affects everyone. It deprives Canadian governments of significant revenues, it fosters other criminal activities, it has an impact on public health and provides unregulated, easy and affordable access to tobacco products.
There is also a direct correlation between the rise in contraband tobacco consumption and the change in government in 2006. Looking at the statistics for the growth of illegal tobacco sales, we can see that 33% was the national average last year, up from 16.5% in 2006. This is a jump up over 100%. In 2008 it was 48.6% on the playgrounds in Ontario schools and 40.1% in Quebec.
The Liberals had a strategy in place and multi-pronged approach to deal with problems, but the Conservative government let the rate of contraband consumption grow exponentially. Now we have learned that the American Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, knew nothing of the huge problem in tobacco smuggling until after she came out of the meeting with the Minister of Public Safety. She only responded to this problem after it was raised by a journalist. This is totally irresponsible.
Why is the government refusing to deal with contraband tobacco? Contraband causes huge losses in tax revenues. Does it not need the money? It sees more and more Canadian children becoming addicted on cheap cigarettes and allows smugglers and members of organized crime to profit off the illegal trade.
As I said, it is the same people smuggling the cigarettes who are smuggling the drugs and the guns. This is organized crime. We should look at the statistics. There were 13 billion estimated total Canadian purchases of illegal cigarettes in 2008 compared to 10 billion in 2007.
It is time that the government got smart on crime. If the government were serious about reducing youth smoking, it would consider stopping youth from having access to these cigarettes. The government needs to deliver a plan and enforcement strategy to stop the importation of illegal black market tobacco.
In a Hamilton Spectator article written on April 30, 2009, it was reported that the jump in smoking rates was directly correlated to easy access to contraband and tax free cigarettes that sell for a fraction of the regular price. Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, mentioned in the article that he was very concerned about the impact of inexpensive contraband cigarettes on smoking rates.
Public health officials estimate that 200 contraband cigarettes cost $8 to $15, compared with the usual $55 to $80. Mr. Cunningham continued to say that higher tobacco taxes were the single most effective measure to reduce smoking, and the presence of widespread, inexpensive contraband tobacco was dramatically impeding the progress that we would otherwise be making.
The government must address the fact that contraband cigarettes are the cheapest and easiest cigarettes to get for children. I am concerned that in the media backgrounder, the department skirts the issue entirely by saying that contraband is the purview of Public Safety. While this may be true, it completely ignores the fact that an entire strategy is undermined by the lack of action by whatever department is in charge of contraband, and it shows that the government is working in silence, to the total detriment of the health of Canadians.
These are only some of the stakeholder reaction groups we have heard so far. However, many groups, including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and the Canadian Medical Association have been pushing the government for laws that would crack down on the sale and marketing of cigarillos.
Paul Thomey, the chair of the tobacco policy for the Canadian Lung Association, is quoted in the government press release accompanying the bill stating that these are positive steps forward in the fight against tobacco, and that strong measures such as these not only will protect Canada's children from the harmful effects of smoking but will also serve to curtail industry tactics aimed at marketing its products to the youth of this country.
I say again, banning these products in this country will not do anything if they just arrive in duffle bags and dunnage bags from across the border or, as this industry has done before, from Canada, outside and back into Canada, and then dealt with in the black market.
The president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Robert Ouellet, also quoted in the government press release, thanked the government on behalf of Canada's doctors and their patients, adding that closing loopholes is a step forward in protecting our children from a deadly addiction to tobacco.
Despite our concerns that Bill C-32 does nothing to address the contraband issue that is at the heart of youth smoking rates, the Liberal Party will support the bill in principle. However, we will be asking the government questions at committee. Why does the bill not include restrictions against menthol, and why will there be a 270 day period before store owners must take these products off their shelves?
We will also investigate whether the ban on flavours can be extended to chewing tobacco and smokeless tobacco as a kiddie product, as one quarter of the users are children under 19. Flavouring smokeless with candy flavours is a problem so similar to the flavouring of little cigarillos that it makes no sense to exclude this one category.
We understand that smokeless is not as large a problem as smoking, but it is significant enough to worry. For every five boys who smoke cigarettes, there is one smokeless user. Adding smokeless to the bill would require a very simple amendment to the schedule. Although it could be done by regulation later, there is no reason to delay.
Bill C-32 is a step in the right direction to protect Canadians, and youth in particular, from tobacco marketing. Tobacco products should not be marketed as inoffensive. By prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps that contain a series of additives that have flavouring properties, and by prohibiting packaging that suggests that these products contain these additives, the bill aims at avoiding the misleading marketing of tobacco products.
By prohibiting advertising in all types of magazines and newspapers regardless of their readership, the bill ensures that all Canadians, and youth in particular, will not be exposed to tobacco sales pitches.
However, as I mentioned in detail, this bill will not solve the problem of smoking among youth altogether, and that is because the bill fails to address the question of contraband tobacco which is an important source of supply for youth, contraband products being cheap and easily accessible.
Despite the omission of contraband, the Liberal Party will support the bill at second reading. We look forward to engaging in a deeper study at the health committee. We will take witness testimony at committee into consideration in assessing whether this bill should be amended.