Globe and Mail The Quebec Superior Court has upheld the federal law that imposes on the tobacco industry tough restrictions on advertising, sponsorship and labelling, including the obligation to print large, gruesome health warnings on cigarette packs.
Antitobacco activists quickly urged the government to follow up on Friday’s ruling by adopting even stricter regulations.
They want Ottawa to curb tobacco retail displays and eliminate the marketing of so-called light or mild cigarettes.
They said the ruling is crucial because the 1997 Tobacco Act, Bill C-71, is one of the toughest existing tobacco legislations and has been hailed as a model by the World Health Organization.
“The tobacco industry was trying to strike down the Canadian model to prevent it from spreading,” Rob Cunningham, a Canadian Cancer Society lawyer, said.
The plaintiffs Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., Rothmans Inc., Benson & Hedges Inc. and JTIMacdonald Corp. argued the law restricted their freedom of expression.
In a stinging 193-page judgment, Mr. Justice Andre Denis said the restriction was justified. “Their rights cannot be given the same legitimacy as the government’s duty to protect public health.”
Draconian as they may seem to the tobacco companies, the law’s restrictions are “proportional to the scale of the health problem Parliament seeks to address.”
After listening to six months of testimony, Judge Denis bluntly portrayed the cigarette makers as cynical and deceptive.
“The industry has known for 50 years that cigarettes cause lung cancer and are hazardous to health but have never thought it necessary to warn consumers about this,” he said.
He added that “the industry was a willing accomplice of black-market cigarette smugglers.”
The harshly worded ruling says that “not all rights are equal, and the tobacco companies’ freedom to praise the merits of cigarettes cannot be accorded the same constitutional protection as the right to freely express political, cultural or scientific ideas.”
A spokesman for the industry said the companies need to study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.
Don McCarty, a vice-president at Imperial Tobacco, said Judge Denis had failed to see that the rules the industry faces now amount to a total ban on advertising, a concept the Supreme Court of Canada overruled in 1995.
Judge Denis noted that smoking is by far the most serious public health problem in Canada. “Smoking killed 30,000 people in 1981 and will kill 45,000 this year. Every year, more Canadians die from smoking than from car accidents, suicide, murder, AIDS and drug abuse combined.”
In other words, smoking each year kills more Canadians than comprise the population of Drummondville, Que., or Prince Albert, Sask., he said. The judge added that testimony at the trial showed that smokers die prematurely, develop erectile dysfunctions and damage their children’s health.