Madam Speaker, on May 28 I asked the Minister of Health a question in the House concerning the tobacco epidemic that costs 45,000 lives every year in Canada. I pointed out that the predecessor to the current Minister of Health had promised on December 1, 2001, a promise that is close to its second anniversary, to ban the labelling of cigarettes described as light or mild.
As well, I noted that a new treaty of the World Health Organization had just come into force in May. The Minister of Health signed that treaty in July, the framework convention on tobacco control, and that treaty requires countries to ban misleading descriptions.
I asked the minister how many more people or kids would start to smoke and how many more smokers would die before the minister finally does what she and the government promised to do almost two years ago, to ban dishonest labelling of cigarettes as light and mild.
Here we are in November 2003, almost two years since the minister's predecessor made that promise, and the government has shamefully taken no action whatsoever to implement the promise.
The European Union has moved ahead. On September 30 the European Union completely banned all labelling of light, low tar and similar descriptions on cigarettes sold in Europe. Cigarettes are now sold basically using colours.
The current minister has said that she will get around to this ban when the ducks are in a row. How many more ducks have to be in a row before this lame duck government finally does the right thing and moves ahead?
I would point out that in the draft regulation that was tabled in December, the government set out the rationale for banning light and mild descriptions. It pointed out that documents from the tobacco industry indicated that it believed that the marketing of brands labelled with these descriptions provided consumer reassurance, may have kept some smokers from quitting, may have delayed cessation in others and may have encouraged more girls and young women to take up smoking because of the implied suggestion of lower risks, milder taste or ease of smoking.
What was said in the proposed regulation was that the Department of Health had determined that removing these descriptions from tobacco product packaging would be a means of health protection and in the best interests of public health.
Shame on the government for not following through on an action that would save lives and that would prevent the dishonesty and deception that suggests that somehow light and mild cigarettes are any less likely to cause the range of serious health problems that tobacco causes.
Why is the government not moving ahead? The parliamentary secretary is here with his text prepared from the Department of Health. I plead with him to throw away that text and stand in the House of Commons and tell Canadians that his government will finally honour the promise that was made to protect the health of Canadians and ban these dishonest labels of light and mild on cigarettes in Canada, as the European Union did, effective in September of this year.