Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-5, the tobacco and vaping products act.
Canada's New Democrats have long called for the measures contained in the proposed legislation and we will work positively with the government to facilitate its implementation at every stage to ensure it is passed and improved as soon as possible. The legislation will save lives.
Indeed, our party has led the fight in Parliament for strong tobacco legislation for decades. As we all know, tobacco products contain deadly carcinogens and many other harmful substances that are injurious to human health. We also know that tobacco products are highly addictive. It is really a perfect storm, a terrible substance that kills and addicts the consumer who tries it.
In the 1960s, when the federal government was still unwilling to pursue an effective control tobacco policy, more than 20 private members' bills to control tobacco packaging, labelling, and advertising were introduced by opposition members. More than half of them were introduced by NDP MP Barry Mather.
In the fall of 1986, over 30 years ago, NDP member of Parliament, Lynn McDonald, introduced a private member's bill, “The Non-smokers' Health Act”, Bill C-204, to ban tobacco advertising and smoking in workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Unlike most private members' bills that unfortunately die on the order paper, this legislation would go on to become law, albeit in a modified form in 1988.
In 2008, former New Democrat health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis launched a successful campaign to ban flavours in tobacco products. At that time, of course, the addition of flavours to tobacco was another insidious move by tobacco companies to try to skirt effective regulation and continue to hook Canadians with their product.
The legislation before us today, Bill S-5, was introduced in response to the 2015 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health entitled “Vaping: Toward a Regulatory Framework for E-Cigarettes”.
In essence, the proposed act before us today aims to protect youth and Canadians from nicotine addiction and tobacco marketing, by granting regulation-making authority to the Governor in Council for the implementation of plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products and by creating a new legislative framework for regulating vaping products in our country.
Since it first took office, Canada's New Democrats have been calling on the Liberal government to expedite the implementation of plain packaging requirements for all tobacco products. Plain packaging has proved to be an effective way to reduce smoking, discourage young people from starting to smoke, and decrease second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke. Every month we delay, more Canadians, especially young Canadians, start smoking and become addicted. That will result in more Canadians dying from tobacco-related illness. Action is needed immediately for the health of all Canadians.
According to the Canadian tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey in 2015, 115,000 Canadians started smoking daily, with 82% of daily smokers starting before the age of 18. This means that of those 115,000 Canadians who start smoking pretty much every year, most of those people are under the age of 18. One-third of them will ultimately be affected negatively in a health consequence and die from that tobacco use.
The Liberal government issued mandate letters to their cabinet ministers in 2015. One of those mandates was to bring in this legislation. Here we are, almost three years later in 2018, and the legislation is still before the House and has not passed.
What did the health minister and the government do when they were given that mandate? They decided to consult. Consult about what? Did they not know that tobacco products killed? Did they not know that tobacco products were addictive? Did they not know that plain packaging worked? I will get into that in a few moments because all three of those questions need to be answered.
We knew the answers to all those questions back in 2015. Therefore, it is inexcusable the government delayed and dithered for years to bring in this legislation. We know that every day young Canadians start smoking, get addicted to cigarettes, and will ultimately die in large numbers from that.
This means that since 2015, somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 Canadians have started smoking and become addicted since the government first said it was going to act on this matter. That is not putting the health of Canadians first, and it is not giving the priority to the health of Canadians that New Democrats believe is appropriate.
As Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said:
The sooner we have tobacco plain packaging, the sooner we can have the health benefits. Plain packaging will reduce the appeal of tobacco packages and brands. Right now, tobacco companies are using brand colours and logos to make cigarettes more attractive. That might include mountain scenes or feminine pastels, it might include super-slim packages targeted at women.
I think many parliamentarians in this room have been approached by members of the Canadian Cancer Society and anti-tobacco groups. They bring with them samples of the products tobacco companies are using to market, particularly to young people and especially to young women. That marketing is disgusting. They market small slim packages that are meant to look like cosmetics, slim so they fit in a young woman's small purse at night clubs. They are directly trying to addict young women in particular to tobacco products, using sophisticated marketing techniques to do that. They are marketing a carcinogen that is addictive and that kills to our young girls and women. That needs to stop.
Plain packaging for tobacco products would standardize the appearance and size of cigarette packages by requiring the removal of all brand imagery, including corporate logos and trademarks. Packages would display a standard background colour, usually a very unattractive greenish-brown, and manufacturers would be permitted to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font, and position. Other government-mandated information such as health warnings would remain in prominent fashion.
The changes would render cigarette packages almost indistinguishable from each other, which would make them less attractive to consumers, especially young people, and would make the health warnings clearer, more prominent, and more effective.
With respect to the government needing to consult, plain packaging was implemented in Australia in 2012, six years ago; in France, Hungary, and the United Kingdom in 2016; and in Norway and Ireland in 2017. Again, we have empirical evidence from around the world from jurisdictions similar to ours that plain packaging works, and the government chose to wait and delay rather than act forcefully and effectively. Plain packaging is also under formal consideration in Slovenia, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Belgium, and South Africa, among other countries.
The New Democrats believe Canada should have the strictest and most rigorous plain and standardized packaging regimen in the world in order to promote public health. While this act is an excellent start, it is not perfect and requires some scrutiny to ensure it meets its full potential. For example, in its consultation document on the proposed regulations concerning plain packaging, Health Canada did not include the option of further regulating brand names beyond limiting the number of words they could contain.
I met with the former health minister of Australia, Nicola Roxon, who told me we had to close every loophole in these regulations or tobacco companies would find a way to exploit them. That even includes things like their names. If we do not put controls on their names, then we will see things like “Sexy Brand Smoking Inc.” or “Young People Beauty Cigarettes Inc.” We will see the tobacco companies use that kind of marketing to get their messages to young people. We, as parliamentarians, have to ensure that does not happen.
This is why New Democrats are calling on the government to ban all brand names and terms with positive connotations, as is the case in France and outlined in the European Commission tobacco products directive. Canada should also prohibit tobacco brand variants, as is done in Uruguay.
In the past, partial marketing bans for tobacco have had limited effectiveness. When most traditional forms of tobacco advertising were prohibited, big tobacco's marketing expenditures did not stop; they simply shifted to other channels, including packaging and the retail environment.
Plain packaging not only eliminates one of the last remaining marketing avenues available to big tobacco, it also enhances the impact of health warnings.
Health warnings are the most cost-effective, self-sustaining way of communicating with Canadians about the harms of tobacco. Effective warnings should be large, prominent, be unavoidable, use colour, and include pictures. Large pictorial warnings are the most effective way to reach children and youth and the most vulnerable members of our society with low literacy.
However, warnings are not just about scaring consumers away from a deadly product. They are also about informing Canadians and providing access to support for those who need it to overcome their nicotine addiction. In Canada, every cigarette pack includes a telephone helpline number and a website for helping Canadians stop smoking.
Dr. David Hammond, professor at the University of Waterloo School of Public Health and Health Systems, recently informed the health committee that this approach had been extensively evaluated and worked very effectively.
Moreover, despite big tobacco's efforts to mislead the public, all credible evidence shows that the removal of branding does not promote illegal or contraband sales. The only research that has found any link between contraband market increases and plain packaging comes from studies funded directly by the tobacco industry.
Specifically, this research comes from reports commissioned from KPMG that had to include a disclaimer that they were not to be used for any purpose other than what the funder decreed because the terms of reference were so narrow that they could not be used to draw any broad inferences. Indeed, KPMG took the extraordinary step of writing to the U.K. minister of health to state that the tobacco industry was misusing its work.
The argument that plain packaging increases contraband tobacco sales has been repeatedly put forward by big tobacco in court cases as well, and it has been rejected every time. In fact, five separate legal rulings have affirmed the positive impact of plain packaging.
This sort of deceptive behaviour from big tobacco is nothing new. Today's fight for plain packaging follows a long and dark history of big tobacco engaging in orchestrated campaigns to deceive the public about the harms of its extremely deadly product. Indeed, in a landmark 2015 Canadian court ruling, three of the world's biggest tobacco companies were ordered to pay $15 billion for their duplicity.
In his ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan pulled no punches, saying:
By choosing not to inform either the public health authorities or the public directly of what they knew, the Companies chose profits over the health of their customers. Whatever else can be said about that choice, it is clear that it represents a fault of the most egregious nature and one that must be considered in the context of punitive damages.
Despite big tobacco's attempts to obstruct the truth, we know that of the more than 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke hundreds are toxic, including hydrogen cyanide, lead, acetone, arsenic, and formaldehyde. At least 70 of these chemicals are known carcinogens. We know that every day, 100 Canadians will die of a smoking-related illness. That is one every 14 minutes. That is 37,000 Canadians who will die this year due to smoking. Of those, over 1,000 non-smokers will die of lung cancer and coronary heart disease caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.
We also know that big tobacco has no qualms with continuing to aggressively market this poison to young people in order to encourage and exploit their addiction to a product that will ultimately kill them. However, I am heartened to see that this generation of young Canadians is fighting back.
I recently had the honour of attending the Freeze the Industry luncheon on Parliament Hill. Freeze the Industry is a youth-led coalition that is dedicated to stopping big tobacco from developing and marketing products that entice young people. I was inspired to see the coalition's unwavering support for plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products in Canada.
I also must give tremendous credit to organizations that have been on the front lines of this battle with big tobacco for decades. Their tireless efforts have saved countless lives over the years. Although there are too many to name individually, I would like to specifically recognize the advocacy of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Lung Association, and Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac. Of course, I would be remiss not to recognize the heavy lifting that has been done for us by Australia's former health minister, the hon. Nicola Roxon, who led the global fight against big tobacco to bring in the world's first set of plain-packaging requirements. That is leadership.
I might also point out that in Australia, tobacco giant Philip Morris brought a claim against Australia under investor-state dispute settlement provisions in a Hong Kong trade deal in 2011. Thankfully, this was unsuccessful, but it is another example of the misguided inclusion of investor-state lawsuit provisions in trade agreements, which Liberals and Conservatives continue to push.
By the way, Philip Morris also failed in a bid to challenge the constitutionality of plain-packaging laws in the High Court of Australia in 2012. After a five-year legal battle, Australia's plain-packaging requirements were upheld at the World Trade Organization in 2017. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the lengths and steps that big tobacco will take in order to continue to legally market its dangerous and fatal product.
Canada's New Democrats believe that we cannot give big tobacco any room to manoeuver to continue to promote this deadly product. Canada must have the strictest and most rigorous plain and standardized packaging regime in the world, and that is what New Democrats will work towards.
The proposed legislation also deals with vaping products. The New Democrats understand that this new technology holds promise as a harm reduction tool to promote the cessation of tobacco consumption. An expert independent evidence review published by Public Health England concluded that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking. At the same time, the long-term health impacts of vaping are presently unclear and require further research. Thus, Canada's New Democrats believe that the goal of any regulatory framework for vaping products should be to maximize their potential benefits as a smoking cessation tool while minimizing their potential health risks and curtailing access for minors. Publicly, Health Canada has not established a harm reduction policy or articulated the goals and administrative measures that one would expect for such an approach.
At present, the vaping market in Canada is an informal grey market in which suppliers have kept a low profile and not aggressively marketed their products, which are technically illegal. There are growing fears that the passage of Bill S-5 will trigger the entry also of large tobacco companies into the licit Canadian vaping market, which is why I will now highlight some of the weaknesses of Bill S-5 regarding the advertising and promotion of vaping products and suggest some potential amendments to remedy these gaps.
First, the prohibition on promoting vaping devices containing flavours set out in column 1 of schedule 3 may be too narrow, since all flavours could be appealing to young people. The legislation should be amended to prohibit the promotion of vaping products that could potentially be appealing to young people.
Unlike the Tobacco Act, Bill S-5 contains no restrictions on permitted locations for advertising and promotion of vaping products, which means that Bill S-5 could allow advertising on television, social media, bus stops, arenas, or virtually anywhere. Therefore, the proposed legislation should establish strengthened restrictions regarding permitted locations for vaping product advertising and promotion.
While the current bill would also ban lifestyle advertising, with some exceptions, there is no provision that states that only information or brand preference advertising is allowed on vaping products. This is another area that ought to be looked at. Bill S-5 would still permit lifestyle advertising in bars and in publications sent to adults. This provision would serve no public health purpose and should be eliminated since there is no need for lifestyle advertising in relation to a harm reduction smoking cessation device.
Finally, Bill S-5 would still permit extensive incentive promotions for vaping products in places where young people do not have access. Things like contests to win beach vacations, access to invitation-only parties, and tickets to concerts and sporting events could still be allowed and they should not be in this legislation.
New Democrats will work diligently to try to make sure that the vaping provisions of this bill serve Canadian public health interests as much as possible. We will work very diligently in that regard.