Mr. Speaker, it is with great amazement and chagrin that I rise to take part in the debate today.
When I was 13 years old I took up smoking. Yes, both my parents smoked, as did most adults I knew. It was 1961 and in spite of the U.S. surgeon general's report some eight years earlier, smoking was still the norm.
Five years ago, after numerous tries, I finally managed to quit. I thank God daily that I did so. During those pretty awful weeks that followed my last cigarette, I brooded considerably about why I had taken that first step as a teenager. The answer, actually, was fairly easy. It was considered grown up. It was considered sophisticated. It was considered cool, an adjective or attribute as desirable in 1961 as it is in 1997.
I do not know why we have not succeeded in killing this image of smoking for our young. I suspect the reasons are complex and manifold, but I do know that the advertising of cigarettes is part of the problem.
I truly cannot believe the commentators, the pundits and the Bloc Quebecois who somehow pretend to believe that the advertising of tobacco is unrelated to increased smoking by young people. I actually heard one person, no doubt just off the shuttle from Mars, say that young people's smoking was unrelated to advertising, but particularly unrelated to arts advertising. That makes me sick.
Smoking cigarettes kills people. It is not a theory, it is a fact. Smoking is a cause of lung cancer. It is a cause of emphysema. It exacerbates asthma. It is a cause of heart disease and it is a cause of strokes. Recent research has made strong links to the incidence of breast cancer being caused by smoking or exacerbated by smoking.
Smoking is dangerous. It is deadly. Take any smoker in the country and beleaguered as he or she may be by being forced to congregate in the cold or in small ghettoizing rooms, lectured constantly by the medical profession and by the converted like me, I will bet that the most militant smoker does not want his or her child to take up this habit. It is not because of any social stigma. It is not because of the cold porches. It is not even because your clothes and your hair stink. It is because no loving parent wants a child to place his life in jeopardy.
Let us look at the issue of advertising and consumption-the consumption of any good-and let us make it really simple.
Companies that want to sell their goods spend massive dollars on advertising. Why do companies spend massive dollars on advertising? To sell their product and to make a profit.
We all know that is true, but for some reason, as I noted with surprise yesterday, the editorial writers of the Globe and Mail were having a problem with this. I hope what I have said today may be of some help to them.
Just in case there is any further doubt, people do not buy cigarettes for decoration or bookends or ballast. They buy cigarettes to smoke them and smoking them makes them sick. The difficulty here of course-I do not minimize it-is the question of arts funding. Let me state, unequivocally, my long time devotion to the enhancement of Canadian cultural endeavours.
In my previous life I was an actor, first in amateur and later in professional productions. I have served on the boards of theatres, dance, music and other arts organizations. I have maintained an active interest in the visual and performing arts in my city, my province, my region and my country. This is something that is very close to my heart.
I want more and better funding for artists and artistic endeavours, from Halifax's wonderful Shakespeare in the Park to CBC Radio and I will work my fingers to the bone to help find it. But I will not, I cannot, say that money earned from a dangerous product is okay.
Tobacco must not be the saviour of the arts in Canada. There are other sources and we must each work together, all of us on all sides of this House, and with the people in our constituencies to find them.
I know from personal experience what it is like to sit around a board room table late at night in the face of government cuts, in the face of private sector cuts, desperately searching with other devotees and volunteers for alternative sources of funding; scrambling, scrimping and scraping to maintain this festival or this theatre company. I know.
I also know what it is like to watch a friend walk around carrying a portable oxygen tent, unable to walk up stairs, unable to pick up a grandchild because of the emphysema that is choking off his life.
I have spoken many times to hard pressed artists, producers and artistic directors about this terrible dichotomy that we face, but not one of them suggested that tobacco was benign. The artistic community is in a terrible position. I understand the position of the people in Quebec and across the country who are terrified for their jobs. However, this issue goes beyond that. It is a question of right and wrong.
I do not blame people for fighting but I say to them that while we do not have all or even some of the answers with regard to funding in these days of financial restraint and cutback, the answer is not to turn a blind eye to a hazardous, dangerous product.
The legislation gives us and them two years. I pledge my strongest efforts, and I know millions of other Canadians will as well. We cannot afford the status quo. I cannot in all conscience indulge my passion for the theatre, for the ballet, for the music I love, if always in the back of my mind I see teenagers trying to be cool, trying to be grown up in a corner of the schoolyard, beginning an addiction that will lead them ultimately to an early grave.