Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-32, which is a very important piece of legislation, particularly as it affects public health.
What is Bill C-32? This enactment amends the Tobacco Act to provide additional protection for youth from tobacco marketing. It 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. 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 that act as well as the packaging of those products in a manner that suggests they contain a prohibited additive.
This is a really important piece of legislation, and I have a particular bias on this.
When we look at legislation affecting tobacco, the first thing we have to accept is that tobacco has no redeeming qualities. One could argue that for people who smoke the taste is a redeeming quality, but there are no redeeming qualities. It is dangerous, it is addictive and it shortens life.
Tobacco abuse is sometimes compared to alcohol abuse, but there are some significant differences. One difference is that alcohol can be used responsibly in moderation. Some research even indicates that there are health benefits to certain types of alcohol. We often hear about red wine. Even the beer distributors have evidence indicating that beer used in moderation can be helpful. It has not helped me very much, but I accept the argument. Whether one believes it or not, it can be argued that alcohol does not automatically shorten life. Of course the abuse of alcohol can have dramatic impacts: early death, drinking under the influence, et cetera. But we have laws that pertain in those circumstances.
Tobacco has no health benefits. It is very important that we ensure young Canadians do not fall into this trap and become addicted to tobacco. The bill is important for that reason, and for me it has a historical importance as well. From 1991 to 2004, I was very involved as a volunteer with the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Nova Scotia and in Canada. I was the president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Nova Scotia for three or four years, and I served on the national board for a number of years.
I had the opportunity to work with some great health advocates who worked very hard in the anti-tobacco strategies. Joan Fraser was a mentor to me in Nova Scotia, and Jane Farquharson was a pioneer in healthy living. Mary Elizabeth Harriman, who works with the Heart and Stroke Foundation nationally, and is now the executive vice-president, was involved in health promotion when I worked with her on a number of these issues. Sally Brown is now the executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and she has been for a number of years. People in Nova Scotia, like Tanya Willis, Rollie Jameson, Grant Morash, George Buckell, are business leaders who became presidents of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and advocated for many issues, including but not specifically restricted to the battle against tobacco.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has done a great deal of work on the anti-tobacco strategy. The key was when the organizations with a common interest in promoting healthy living, particularly as it pertained to tobacco but also on other things like obesity and other issues, started working together. The health charities round table in Canada had great success. They have done a lot of great work. We know the work that the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the CMA and other organizations do. Those organizations have been active on this for a long time.
We have come a long way in the battle against tobacco, but it was not always easy. I can recall 30 years ago that my now mother-in-law told people that if they were going to smoke in her house they should leave. That was radical in those days. People thought she was crazy. They thought she was hypersensitive to tobacco smoke to actually ask someone to leave her house to smoke. That was only three decades ago. They thought it was just an inconvenience. They did not understand the health detriment of second-hand smoke. That is not that many years ago.
We have come a long way, but it has not always been easy. At times success came incrementally, in small steps, and the tobacco advocates, who were well financed and well resourced, fought back every step of the way. But success has come to some degree. It has not come all the way, but it has come, and we have reduced the incidence of smoking. It has taken a lot of hard work.
I can recall a time, probably about 10 years or so ago, when the Liberal government of the day was cracking down on tobacco companies being able to sponsor events. The tobacco companies, to their credit, were very involved in things like the artistic community.
I remember arriving at my office one day and receiving calls from two organizations with which I was involved. One was from the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia asking if I would write a letter encouraging the government, in the piece of legislation that it was pursuing, so that tobacco companies could not sponsor events and take advantage of that sponsorship to leverage people to become addicted to smoking. That was fine.
I was also on the board of Neptune Theatre, probably the finest theatre company in Canada, with the possible exception of Eastern Front Theatre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and perhaps the St. Peters Playhouse. The one in Charlottetown is not half bad, I must say, thanks to Anne of Green Gables and a number of other fine productions.
When I was on the board of Neptune Theatre I was asked to write a letter opposing the legislation because Neptune Theatre was the beneficiary, largely of du Maurier but other companies that provided sponsorship. It was a difficult position. Tobacco companies knew that governments had been reducing their role in the artistic and cultural communities and that they had an opportunity. To their credit, they stepped in.
I wrote the letter for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, which was the right thing to do. The Heart & Stroke Foundation has been a great advocate on a number of things.
We have had discussions in the House on things like trans fats. The Heart & Stroke Foundation has led on Health Check, where it identifies products that are healthy for people and puts a check mark on them so that when people go to grocery stores they will know what is healthy and what is not because consumers still have an awful lot of trouble identifying what is actually good for them and do not understand all the ramifications and differences in products, such as polyunsaturates, trans fats and everything else.
My bias on this bill is the work that I did with the Heart & Stroke Foundation and the people I met, including the many people who had become addicted to tobacco. Quite honestly, in my parents' generation it was a pretty easy thing to do. It seemed everybody smoked and, before they knew it, they were hooked on tobacco. Thank heaven, today my own children face probably more pressure if they do smoke than if they do not, although there are some areas where that is not always the case.
We have had great champions in Nova Scotia. I recall Ron Stewart, who was the minister of health in Nova Scotia in my father's government in the 1990s. He postulated at one point in time that we should not have things like the candy licorice pipes. I am sure members have had those before and probably in recent years. I have been known to enjoy them myself. However, the idea was that maybe we should not have them because it makes it easy for kids to become accustomed to pretending that they smoke and eventually they do. He was pilloried. People thought he was crazy. I think he was ahead of his time, as Ron Stewart always is.
Dave MacLean is with Heart Health Nova Scotia. I am very proud of the fact that in Nova Scotia, when I was involved in the Heart & Stroke Foundation, we had an organization that pulled together a number of advocates in public health, largely on smoking, headed by Dr. Dave MacLean, who was a champion on this issue. He is now at Simon Fraser University. Both he and his wife have teaching positions there. He was a pioneer.
Anne Cogdon in the city of Dartmouth was very involved in the healthy communities project.
Those are people who understand that people should not smoke. There was a day when people said that we were taking away their freedom. It was like seat belts and a number of other things but there is a role for the state in ensuring we provide opportunities, and not dangerous ones, for all citizens, but particularly for children.
I was always proud of the fact that Nova Scotia, under the Progressive Conservative government of Dr. John Hamm, back maybe five, six or seven years ago, was the first province in Canada to have a health promotion department. I give Dr. Hamm and people like Scott Logan, who worked there, a lot of credit. They were very active in ensuring people knew the facts about smoking, gambling, alcohol abuse and a whole bunch of other issues. I am proud of the fact that Nova Scotia, under Dr. Hamm's leadership, was the first province to bring in a health promotion department.
I have had the opportunity to speak to a number of my not-for-profit friends about this bill, organizations like Heart & Stroke, the Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and the Lung Association. They want this bill passed. It may not be perfect and, in fact, I would argue that it is not. A number of things need to be looked at and adapted in the health committee but we need to get this through the House, which is what people are calling for.
I would like to quote Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society. He stated:
The Canadian Cancer Society strongly supports this bill as it will lead to fewer Canadians starting to smoke and encourage more to quit.... By working together to quickly pass this bill, federal MPs will send a clear message that the health of their constituents and all Canadians comes first. Cancer is a non-partisan issue.
Speaking of cigarillos, which I will speak to in a second, which come in fruit flavours and things like that, he says:
There is the risk that these flavoured products would be a starter product for kids who would never otherwise start smoking,
There is a concerning rate of cigarillo smoking among young Canadians. The Heart & Stroke Foundation, the aforementioned Sally Brown is doing a wonderful job with the Heart & Stroke Foundation. I am proud to say that I was part of the search committee that recommended her. She said:
Protecting children from harmful tobacco industry products such as candy-flavoured cigarillos and their associated marketing is critical to ensure that children do not get hooked on tobacco. This is crucial because long-term tobacco users, half of whom die from their tobacco use, more often than not begin their addiction in their youth. This initiative is critical to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
I would also mention Paul Thomey, the chair of tobacco policy for the Canadian Lung Association, who was quoted as saying:
These are positive steps forward in the fight against tobacco. 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 their products to the youth of this country.
The president of the CMA said, “Closing loopholes is a huge step forward in protecting our children from a deadly addiction to tobacco”. This is a very serious issue for many people.
I have spoken to my friends at the Heart & Stroke who have suggested that we should pass the bill and get it to committee and perhaps the health committee would amend the bill to address smokeless tobacco products: oral, chew, spit tobacco, et cetera. Some of these products contain flavourings that are meant to appeal to youth. We think that should be dealt with at the committee level.
Other speakers have probably referred to this, but how could we believe anything other than the fact that producers of tobacco products are trying to get children addicted to their products when chewing tobacco comes in flavours that appeal to kids? We should think about that. These are flavoured products that are meant to appeal to children and that needs to be changed.
We should think about how deliberate these strategies are, and this is for both smoking and for smokeless products. Little cigars, the cigarillos, whose sales have exploded in recent years, come in these flavours: grape, peach, tropical punch, chocolate and bubble gum. These are not the boys in the fishing camps sitting around having some bubble gum flavoured chewing tobacco that they are appealing to. These are my kids, other members' kids and grandkids and other children across the country. It is really abhorrent. They are not breaking the law right now. We need to change the law so that if they do it, they do break the law because our grandchildren are too important to the future of this country. Who are these intended for? It is pretty clear.
Bill C-32 would deal with what I think is a rotten marketing practice. We are told that more than 400 million little cigars were sold in Canada in 2007 and that must stop. The bill would deal with that. It also would deal with the practice of selling cigarillos in small quantities. That is the other thing. Flavoured products are sold in ones or twos. It is a lot easier for kids at recess or kids at lunchtime to get one or two than if they are mandated to come in a pack of 20 or more. We dealt with this with cigarettes. We cannot buy one or two cigarettes but we can buy one or two root beer flavoured cigarillos or tropical punch. This needs to be changed.
It should never be easy for children to buy tobacco. As a father, the thought of my children becoming addicted to these products is frightening. Any one of us would hope that would never be the case.
Another issue that my colleague from St. Paul's has spoken to quite passionately and very effectively to is the issue of contraband tobacco. In 2008, three billion more contraband cigars were sold than in 2007. That is $2 billion in lost government revenue. Officials estimate that 200 small cigars cost $8 to $15 and not what it should be, which is in the range of $55 to $80. That is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with. It is a huge percentage of the issue that we have to deal with here.
I now want to talk about advertising. We thought we had dealt with this issue because the law was that companies could not advertise tobacco except in publications where at least 85% of the readership were adults. However, there has been a strong resurgence of advertising recently. Who knows where a lot of these publications that carry these ads go. There is no way of knowing if children are getting them and reading them, finding them on the street or if the publications are being distributed for free. Therefore, that exemption for publications where at least 85% of the readership are adults, needs to be dealt with. We really cannot regulate the distribution of advertising in today's society.
We have made some good strides. I will read an article which states:
A recent resurgence of tobacco advertising--over 400 ads nationwide--between November 2007 and December 2008--has exposed young audiences to tobacco sales pitches.
Full colour tobacco ads have been appearing....
Between November 2007 and December 2008, tobacco companies spent approximately $4.47 million dollars to place nationwide ads....
That also would be dealt with by this bill.
We have made some great strides on the issue of dealing with tobacco and the dangers that it can cause. A lot of credit goes to organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, public health agencies across the country, municipal public health organizations, doctors, nurses, teachers, and many others who have brought this message forward for us. I think young people are much more aware of the dangers of smoking than they used to be, certainly more than when I was a child when it was kind of cool to smoke. I do not think that is the case any more. When I talk to my children, they do not think smoking is cool at all, and I want to keep it that way. It is good that we are headed in the right direction but it is nowhere good enough.
Good public education is in fact the key, as it always is, but so is good public policy. The government has a role in ensuring that we provide safe and healthy communities for all of us, but particularly for our children.
There have been a number of champions in this House. I think of former health ministers. like Dave Dingwall and Allan Rock, who did a lot of work on this issue. I think of my NDP colleague from Winnipeg North. I know this is an issue that she takes very seriously and it is an issue that she has championed in private member's bills. She deserves credit. I am sure she is very happy that this bill has come to pass and that she would want to get it into committee.
I also think of my colleague from St. Paul's, the former and first minister of public health in Canada, the originator of the Public Health Agency of Canada. We recognize that the Public Health Agency of Canada, when it was set up, was set up largely in reaction to the issues like SARS and was to deal with things like West Nile virus, but also that there are chronic health disease issues in Canada that are taking a huge toll on our health system and on our citizens.
The biggest issue we face in managing our health care costs today is chronic disease. Tobacco has no positive health benefits. It is designed and produced to be detrimental to health. It is highly addictive. For years, led by public health champions, Canadians have resisted the tobacco lobby and made progress against smoking. We have moved forward. Smoking is now severely restricted in public places, for example; advertising and promotion is curtailed; packaging has been legislated.
My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood passed a private member's bill a few years ago that affected the burn rate of cigarettes. Again, he faced opposition.
Progress has come but this is now the new battle for our children. We must not allow our children to be easily led down a very dangerous path: a path of addiction to tobacco.
This bill is a very good start and I encourage all members to support the bill and get it into committee where we can make it even better.