Smoke and Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War

Smoke and Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War

Smoke and Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War

Smoke and Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War


Smoke and Mirrors provides a detailed account of Canada's continuing battle against the devastating effects of cigarettes. As an historical analysis, it consistently takes us behind the scenes in the tobacco war and is sure to interest Southern stakeholders who wish to learn from the Canadian experience. Author Rob Cunningham, lawyer, activist, and policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, has produced a seminal reference that exposes the truth behind the century-old Canadian tobacco war.


It was not long after I was appointed Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1984 that I realized that the tobacco epidemic was a critical issue requiring a significant solution. Tobacco use was then — and, lamentably, remains today — public health enemy number one.

For many years, tobacco use has been the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in Canada. It causes cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Smoking during pregnancy harms the baby. Nonsmokers are at risk through exposure to secondhand smoke. Yet, despite this knowledge, cigarette sales remain unacceptably high, especially among teenagers.

Most of the responsibility for the tobacco epidemic lies at the door of the tobacco industry itself. Tobacco companies have publicly denied the truth. They have insisted on more research when scientific consensus had long been reached. They have aggressively contested virtually every meaningful regulatory initiative. They have advertised to those who are most vulnerable, including to teenagers and to those who are less educated. They have targeted women, as well as men. Through advertisements, they have portrayed smoking as glamorous, attractive, fun, and healthy; nothing could be further from reality.

The ability of the tobacco industry to stay healthy while its customers get sick is, according to an article in Report on Business Magazine, “One of the most amazing marketing feats of all times.”

While Health Minister, I introduced Bill C-51, the Tobacco Products Control Act, in the House of Commons. This bill banned tobacco advertising, regulated other forms of tobacco marketing, and created authority to require health messages on packages. Even though the bill enjoyed all-party support in Parliament and strong public approval, it was 14 months before the bill received Royal Assent, surely convincing evidence of the industry’s tactical abilities.

Canadians can be proud of what has been achieved after several decades of effort to reduce smoking. in 1964, when Health and Welfare Canada began its smoking and health program, just under 50% of adults were smokers. That has fallen to about 30%. Health professionals, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, private citizens, and governments have all played constructive roles. the multipronged strategy to reduce smoking — tax increases, advertising restrictions, prominent health warnings, smoking restrictions in workplaces and public places, educational campaigns, and transitional assistance to tobacco farmers —- has delivered results.

At the same time, it is with extreme personal frustration that I witness continuing tobacco industry efforts to undermine health policies. Tobacco companies weakened the advertising ban by shifting money into sponsorship promotions, promotions that . . .

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