Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This legislation would be a critical step for our government in delivering on our commitment to introduce plain and standardized packaging requirements for all tobacco products.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of premature death in Canada. It is considered to have a role in causing over 40 diseases and other serious health outcomes. Every year, 45,000 people die in Canada from cigarette smoking.
In my two decades as an emergency room physician, I lost count of the number of patients I saw who suffered from the effects of tobacco. I watched patients with chronic lung disease as they struggled for every breath. I called surgeons to amputate gangrenous limbs. I told families of heart attack victims that their loved ones had just died. I diagnosed advanced cancers in patients and informed them that they were going to die. In almost every one of these instances, I heard the same statement from patients, “I wish I had never started smoking.”
In Canada, tobacco use has been declining. However, despite decades of efforts, in 2015, 115,000 Canadians became daily smokers. Studies show that most tobacco use begins during adolescence. In fact, the vast majority of daily smokers began smoking by the age of 18. I can confidently say that no one wants their kids to smoke.
The government and its provincial and territorial partners have undertaken some key legislative and regulatory measures in their fight against tobacco use. These measures include restrictions on most forms of tobacco product promotion, especially those targeting young people; restrictions by provincial and territorial governments on the display of tobacco products at retail; bans on most flavours that contribute to making cigarettes, blunt wraps, and most cigars more attractive, in particular to youth; restrictions on smoking in public, including bans on indoor smoking and workplaces; the introduction of large, pictorial health warning messages on tobacco product packaging; and the sponsoring of prevention campaigns.
These measures have been effective, but additional measures are needed to further discourage youth and young adults from becoming consumers of tobacco products. Tobacco packaging is one of the few remaining channels available for the promotion of tobacco products. The design and appearance of packages and of tobacco products are extensively used to develop brand image and identity, to create positive associations and expectations for consumers, and to reduce the perception of risk and harm.
The tobacco industry's own research indicates that tobacco packaging, product design, and appearance can shape consumers' perceptions about the product. For example, packages with rounded or bevelled edges are seen as conveying stylishness, elegance, and class. Research also shows how tobacco packaging can impact the perception of risk and harm associated with the use of a tobacco product. For example, tobacco products with lighter colours on their packages have been associated with less harm and perceived lower strength.
Studies have shown that promotion through tobacco packages and products is particularly effective in adolescence and young adulthood, when brand loyalty and smoking behaviour is established. Young adult smokers associate cigarette brand names and package design with positive personal characteristics, social identity, and status. Notably, in 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General's report stated that the evidence reviewed “strongly suggests that tobacco companies have changed the packaging and design of their products to increase their appeal to adolescents and young adults.” This is unacceptable.
Our government is committed to protecting young people and others from inducements to use tobacco. This government is seeking to accomplish this by introducing plain and standardized packaging requirements for all tobacco products. One may wonder what we mean by plain and standardized packaging. Quite simply, it refers to packaging without any distinctive or attractive features. Packages, of any brand, are similar in appearance and the same ordinary colour.
Since 2010, the World Health Organization has been calling on parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to consider introducing plain packaging measures. Canada is a party to that international convention. Australia was the first country to successfully implement plain packaging in 2012. The United Kingdom, Ireland, and France have also adopted plain packaging measures and these countries are in various stages of implementing those measures. In total, over 10 countries, including Canada, are taking steps toward standardizing tobacco packaging.
My colleagues may be asking themselves if plain and standardized packaging works. Independent research studies spanning more than two decades and multiple countries have shown that plain and standardized packaging requirements reduce the appeal of tobacco packages and the products they contain.
In 2016, Australia published the results of its post-implementation review of its plain packaging efforts. The review concluded that tobacco plain packaging is achieving its aim of improving public health in Australia, and that is expected to have substantial public health outcomes in the future. In fact, in Australia, since 2012 there has been a decrease in the prevalence of tobacco use, which has been in part attributed to the standardization of tobacco packaging. The expert analysis of the post-implementation period found the packaging changes, which included both plain packaging and graphic health warnings, resulted in an estimated 108,000 fewer smokers.
Cochrane, a global network of researchers, recently released a review of 51 studies that found there is a consistency of evidence from a variety of differently designed studies and from a range of diverse outcomes that shows plain and standardized packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco packages. These are the same conclusions as found in other comprehensive reviews.
It is clear that even a small change in initiation and cessation of tobacco use would be sufficient to produce public health benefits that outweigh the estimated costs of implementing plain packaging.
Bill S-5 is critical as it would provide the necessary authorities to implement plain and standardized packaging through future regulations. In particular, Bill S-5 would prohibit the promotion of tobacco products by means of the packaging, except as authorized by the act and regulations. It would also provide the necessary authority for future regulations to set out the details for plain packaging.
As a first step in the regulatory development process, our government launched public consultations last year, on World No Tobacco Day, on its proposal to implement plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products. Our government published a detailed consultation document online for 90 days. That document, entitled “Consultation on 'Plain and Standardized Packaging' for Tobacco Products”, highlighted a number of measures where public opinion and feedback were sought.
Over 58,000 responses were received. The overwhelming majority of responses were in favour of plain and standardized packaging. Specifically, the responses from non-governmental and public health organizations were resoundingly supportive of plain and standardized packaging, and included recommendations to strengthen the proposed regulatory measures. There was also a high level of support from the general public, with over 90% of participants in support of plain and standardized packaging. In contrast, comments received from the tobacco industry and retailers opposed the proposed measures. There is still a lot of work to be done, but our government is committed to moving as quickly as possible to implement plain packaging.
Should Bill S-5 receive royal assent, our government would proceed with the development of regulations. That regulatory proposal would go through the typical regulatory process, which would include another period of public consultations on the draft regulations. Our government believes it is important to continue to take decisive action to help protect young people and others from inducements to use tobacco products, and the consequent dependence on them. It is our government's firm belief that the measures in Bill S-5 are essential to further reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products for youth and young adults. Remember, tobacco is a deadly product that kills one in two long-term smokers.
With the support of the members in the House, all Canadians will reap the benefits of improved health outcomes thanks to a further decline in tobacco use. I trust that all members will agree and join us in supporting Bill S-5.