Magazine article The Washington Monthly

No Ifs, Ands, or Butts, Canada Showed How to Beat the Tobacco Lobby. American Antismoking Groups, Take Note

Magazine article The Washington Monthly

No Ifs, Ands, or Butts, Canada Showed How to Beat the Tobacco Lobby. American Antismoking Groups, Take Note

Article excerpt


On the morning of January 25, 1988, an extraordinary advertisement filled page three of Canada's most influential newspaper, The Globe and Mail. The ad featured two friends who weren't anxious to have their friendship advertised: Brian Mulroney, the prime minister, and William H. Neville, the newly appointed president of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.

The headline was big and black: HOW MANY THOUSANDS OF CANADIANS WILL DIE FROM TOBACCO INDUSTRY PRODUCTS MAY BE IN THE HANDS OF THESE TWO MEN. Below the headline were photos of Mulroney and Neville, the best-connected lobbyist in Ottawa. Neville had been in charge of setting up Mulroney's office when he became prime minister. He'd also been a major strategist for Mulroney's Conservative party and chief of staff for a former Conservative prime minister.

The ad ran only hours before a House of Commons committee dominated by Mulroney's Conservatives, would begin to mark up a bill that would revolutionize Canada's system for warning about tobacco hazards, while setting stunning global precedents (see "It's the Law," p. 35, for the key provisions). For example, the Tobacco Products Control Act would outlaw cigarette advertising and promotion in new newspapers and magazines, starting on January 1, 1989.

The industry had reason to be concernred. If parliament--first Commons, then the Senate--were to enact the Tobacco Products Control Act and the complementary Non-smokers' Rights Act, which would impose severe new restrictions on smoking. Canada would become the world's pacesetter for antitobacco laws.

Enactment would "propel companion U.S. legislation forward," former U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Pertschuk testified in Canada's Parliament. Tobacco lobbyist Neville agreed. "There is no question that the health lobby is international, well coordinated and networked, and therefore, if [the legislation] passes, it is going to be encouragement for similar forces in other jurisdictions," he said. In short, if Canada can virtually ban cigarette and advertising, so can we. But the Canadian experience shows that to do so, American anti-smoking groups must shift their interests and sharpen their tactics.

The Mulroney ad had been created in 36 hours by C. Garfield Mahood, executive director of the Non-smokers' Rights Association (NSRA), and was known as his "master stroke." The NSRA and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), which had become the NSRA's closest ally, published it two days after Mahood finished it. It was the perfect moment. The ad devastated Neville's influence by personalizing the tobacco lobby and making whatever success it might have politically damaging to Mulroney. It "made that lobbyist so famous [that] the government could not be seen giving in to him," says Ottawa lawyer David H. Hill, past national vice-president of the CCS. In all but destroying Neville's credibility, the ad also all but destroyed the industry's hopes. The committee approved the draft of the Tobacco Products Control Act the same day. Six months later Parliament passed both bills.

You probably haven't heard the Canadian story, because the U.S. press missed it. The Mulroney-Neville ad was just one of dozens of aggressive, creative strikes in Canada against the immensely rich and powerful tobacco industry. For all their impact in Canada, their most important consequence is the strong message they send to Americans, particularly at a time when the industry is increasingly on the defensive here: voluntary health associations can become the David that fells the tobacco Goliath.

Thy RODDS and thy staff

The key to the success of the Canadian antismoking campaign was the recognition of the hopelessness of the traditional strategies, such as trying to fight the plague of tobacco-induced diseases with sweet reason, gentle persuasion, and endless fund-arusing for biological research. …

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