Thank you for your warm welcome. Good afternoon. David, thank you for your introduction. To David, Dr. Cynthia Callard and all the others in the organization known as Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, thank you for having invited me to be part of this day.
Also, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you about our common commitment against smoking. And let me also say how much I admire the work that has been done by the members of the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
As David mentioned, because of the nature of your profession, you see up close and first hand the effects of tobacco use. You have seen its toll and you have decided to move beyond treating its symptoms to confronting its causes and by bringing your insight and your efforts from your practices to the public domain. You have made a real difference and I want to express today, on behalf of the government of Canada, our gratitude and admiration for the efforts that you have made in this important area.
I know there are other groups present here today, health groups committed to reducing the level of smoking in Canada, people who have spent their time and their energy speaking out and acting. By doing so, you have earned the respect of Canadians by helping us better understand the impact of tobacco use. The example that you have set, whether through individual action or membership in groups, by speaking out, organizing, acting, and raising public awareness of these issues, you have demonstrated once again that in order to effect positive change it is not necessary to run for Parliament or to hold a senior public position.
Someone once said that the highest office in a democracy is the office of citizen and by your commitment and by your actions you have fully discharged the responsibilities of that office and you have made Canada a better place.
What brings us all here together is National Non-Smoking Week. This week also draws attention to the many people and groups that are active in anti-smoking initiatives. The commitment that each of you brings to non-smoking is shared by my provincial and territorial colleagues, family doctors and specialists, medical and health associations, and by municipalities, voluntary groups and individuals across Canada.
As that range of participants shows, National Non-Smoking Week is very much rooted in our communities. Across Canada, voluntary organizations are providing information and programs to help discourage young people from smoking. They are making services available to people who do smoke now but who want to quit. Each year, this week is an opportunity for health partners to assess our collective progress and to identify the work ahead of us.
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And we all know there is much work to do. Smoking is, by far, the leading cause of preventable death in Canada today. As David Esdaile mentioned, the current estimate is that 45,000 Canadians lives end prematurely every year because of tobacco use.
The hundreds of young people who start smoking every day run the risk of developing a lifelong addiction that will sap their vitality, reduce their enjoyment of life and lead to an early death. And I am someone who knows the power of that addiction. I began smoking cigarettes when I was 13 years of age and I smoked heavily until I was 35. I tried in vain a hundred times to quit. And although it has now been 15 years since I quit, I can still understand vividly and very personally the difficulty that smokers face when they try to put it aside.
As a father of children who are now at the most vulnerable age in terms of the temptation to smoke, I want to do everything I can to keep them from that addiction. And like probably everybody in this room, my family has been touched by illness caused by tobacco. That experience lends a special sense of urgency to the work in which we are engaged together.
So, this National Non-Smoking Week presents an opportunity for the government of Canada and for this Minister of Health to reaffirm our commitment against tobacco use, to assure Canadians that their federal government is determined to use all lawful means available to us, to confront this public health issue with taxation, information, education, regulation and innovation.
If we are to succeed in meeting this objective, our commitment must be shared, and it must be long-term. I would like to propose that we use this week, each year, as an occasion for reporting to Canadians on what we have accomplished, and for indicating how we intend to proceed. I would like to make a public report to Canadians on our progress in the battle against tobacco through a speech such as this.
I propose that every year during National Non-Smoking Week Canada’s Minister of Health stand before Canadians on occasions such as this and make a progress report on our efforts against smoking. I believe such an annual report would be useful as a means to inform Canadians on this issue, to remind smokers of the need to quit, to encourage an active agenda and to ensure the accountability of governments.
Today I am happy to announce that we are moving aggressively to improve the regulation of tobacco products in three important ways. First, with tough new package labelling requirements. Second, with measures that will reduce the impact of tobacco promotions including point of sale restrictions in corner stores. And third, by confirming our plan to table in Parliament comprehensive new reporting requirements for tobacco companies.
I am pleased to see here today Dr. Grant Hill, Reform Party health critic, and the Official Opposition in Parliament. I look forward to working constructively with Dr. Hill toward the achievement of these objectives. I know of his personal and political commitment to the effort of reducing and eliminating tobacco use.
Now let me deal with each of these three subjects in turn.
First, as to the labelling of tobacco products, I am releasing today our proposed new labelling requirements under the Tobacco Act. When in place these proposals will make Canada a world leader in the regulation of tobacco labelling. Canadians who smoke will find enhanced and more prominent information about the health consequences of tobacco use on every package of cigarettes.
Let me take a few moments to detail what we are putting before the public. First, we are proposing to update the set of health messages that are now in use. We have declared our intention to add five new health messages that were developed with the advice of Canadians, particularly young people — stark messages like — Smoking Can Cause a Slow and Painful Death. Let me read another proposed message. It was actually suggested to us by a 13-year-old girl during one of our focus groups — Smoking is a Weakness, Not a Strength.
We also intend to provide consumers with more extensive information on the toxic emissions of tobacco products. We are going to increase the number of toxic emissions listed on the labels from three to six for most products. We will support that information with details on the effects that these emissions can have on the health of Canadians. And we won’t stop there.
We will make that information much more visible by allocating 60% of the front and the back display panels of each package of cigarettes to toxic emission data. You can see on the examples that are displayed here today on this stage how prominent that information is going to be. And you can see that this is going to be an effective and a powerful way to bring home to Canadians, as they consider using the product or as they use it, the consequences for their own health.
And there is more.
We intend to require a wider range of tobacco products to meet these labelling requirements than we have to date. The changing make-up of Canadian society and a changing tobacco industry have brought new products into this marketplace. We intend to expand our labelling requirements to cover all of those products, doing so in ways that are appropriate to each.
The proposals also provide consumers and retailers with other important information. For example, each package of cigarettes will contain a reminder that federal law prohibits their sale to underage persons. We will add a message inside the package about where smokers can find help if they want to quit, either a Web site or a 1-800 number.
Now let’s remember why labelling regulation is important and what we are trying to achieve with these proposed changes. Let’s remember that information on the package is one of the most effective and memorable ways of communicating to smokers and others the reality of the choice they are making. Smokers carry that package around with them. They take it out of their pocket sometimes as many as 20 times a day. It is often left in the sight of others, including children.
As long as we respect the guidance given to us by the Supreme Court of Canada, we intend to make full use of this information tool to convey effective messages to smokers and to those who are considering using the product.
I want you to know we have tested these messages. We have tested the information about toxic emissions. We have tested the format in which we will convey the information. And we believe these changes will be effective as they give people the information they need to make personal choices about their own behaviour. I look forward to hearing the comments of Canadians and particularly health groups such as those represented here today in relation to these proposals. I want to receive those comments in the coming months. I want to have these regulations in force by the end of this year.
The second broad initiative to which I draw attention today relates to possible choices for regulating the promotion of tobacco products. We especially seek the views of Canadians on how best to control the advertising and retail display of these products. We want to come to grips with the fact that retail sales outlets are used by the tobacco industry to advertise its products and that children are directly and continuously exposed to those advertisements.
This is evident to any of us on any visit to a corner store. You will often see an array of cigarettes displayed at children’s eye level, or cigarette displays placed near hockey trading cards and chewing gum, a selection of colours, graphics and photographs calculated not only to convey brand information but to attract new customers.
Some estimate the tobacco industry spends as much as $60 million a year just on the method of presentation at the point of sale in retail outlets. Well, it’s high time that we spend time and effort distinguishing between lawful communication with adult customers on the one hand, and on the other, the insidious targeting of children. In Canada 85% of our addicted smokers start, like I did, before the age of 16. Let’s do everything the law allows to limit the exposure of children to the promotion of tobacco. We believe the proposals that we are announcing today will help us achieve just that.
Now I would like to talk about the third part of our announcement. During the course of the next parliamentary session, I intend to table additional regulations covering comprehensive reporting requirements. I am referring to the regulations we want to put in place to introduce the reporting requirements on the sale and the composition of tobacco products. These regulations will also require the tobacco industry to provide information on the publicity and promotions it conducts as well as on a greater number of toxic emissions, over and above what the industry is required to currently declare.
The information we’re calling for would not only give Canada the most extensive reporting requirements in the world, it will also be a continual source of data that we can use to better inform Canadians about tobacco use and to plot our strategy in our continuing efforts against tobacco use.
So, as you can see, the proposals that I am announcing today, taken together, are about public information — getting information to Canadians about the tobacco products that they are using or considering using.
They are about learning more about the tobacco industry and its tactics. They are about putting information in front of Canadians who smoke or who consider doing so, and enabling people to overcome the misinformation that too often occurs in relation to tobacco.
A good example of that confusion are the so-called mild or light cigarettes. Let’s be clear about something. Smokers will not avoid deadly risks by switching to the so-called mild or light brands. Smoking those cigarettes has the same potential to be as debilitating, indeed as lethal as regular cigarettes. The research shows that people who smoke the mild or light brands often smoke more of them or inhale more deeply. They are thereby exposing themselves to the same number of toxic emissions as in other cigarettes and are negating any theoretical difference. We want to make it clear to Canadians that these brands are not a healthy option. There is only one healthy option, and that’s quitting.
In the months ahead we will be developing regulatory measures that will at the very least put the facts in front of smokers. In the meantime, I am today issuing a consumer warning on this very issue to address the real and dangerous confusion that surrounds the terms mild and light.
That’s the kind of information and message that has to get out to smokers, especially young people. Over time, we have learned a great deal about how to communicate these messages — what works and what doesn’t. We have learned a lot but we cannot stand still. There is still a great deal more to learn. To that end I am going to be forming a Youth Advisory Committee to help keep my work to reduce youth smoking focussed and effective.
And speaking of advice, I know that some of you will be attending tomorrow’s round table of experts on the denormalization of the tobacco industry. I am sure that like me you are interested in looking at ideas that might help us in our work in the Canadian context to counterbalance the steady flow of images that makes smoking seem natural and desirable when it’s anything but. It’s also going to be about informing Canadians of the marketing tactics used by the tobacco industry to recruit new smokers.
Tomorrow’s round table is an example of learning about and borrowing from practices elsewhere that have proved successful. We have to continue to study and to import practices that work. That is why, in the coming weeks, Health Canada will be organizing a delegation of its officials and non-government organizations to visit places such as California and Massachusetts where innovative strategies on youth smoking have been developed. Let’s go and see for ourselves what they do that works and at the same time let’s share with them some of the ground-breaking work done right here in Canada.
And let me say, having mentioned Health Canada, it’s not often emphasized but we have, at Health Canada, a team of committed and hard-working officials who have responded with enthusiasm and vigour to my call to organize and act on an aggressive agenda. I want to thank Ian Potter and his team for the hard work they have done in putting together the proposals for today’s announcement. Thanks Ian.
I want to emphasize one other thing before I conclude. I do not regard the initiatives that I have described today as a replacement for the kind of effort that was envisioned in S-13, the Bill that came out of the Senate. While the measures announced today are valuable and are effective in their own right, they are not, and they are certainly not intended to be in place of a strong, well-funded strategy against youth smoking.
I see Senator Colin Kenny here today and my colleague, Dr. Carolyn Bennett. They are to be congratulated for their commitment and tenacity to keep this subject so high on the public agenda. I thank you. And for my own part, I want to assure you I will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of an initiative like S-13, or an alternative that meets the standard that it has established. Later this week I am going to announce the composition of a caucus committee that will be asked to develop proposals in this regard.
Now let me conclude by acknowledging that tobacco is a complex and a powerful adversary. Smoking is addictive. Its influence sometimes seems pervasive. It is part of the daily ritual of almost seven million Canadians and it is going to take a sustained and a long term effort by all partners to achieve our public health goals.
But those challenges give us every reason to get down to work and I am here today to tell you as Canada’s Minister of Health that I am fully committed to our common cause.
Over the years, the partnership between health ministers and health groups has produced some very substantial gains on the subject of tobacco use. Smoking bans that were thought of as radical 20 years ago are now commonplace. Public awareness of smoking risks has never been higher. And our new Tobacco Act sets a world standard for anti-tobacco legislation.
It is now up to us, those of us in this room, those whom we represent, and me, as Minister of Health, to sustain that effort and to make further progress, step by step, to use all available tools as shrewdly as we can, and above all, to speak with one voice in serving notice on those who have a different interest that we shall continue until we prevail.
Thank you very much for having invited me here today.
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