Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Banning Ads for Tobacco Might Slash Culture Funds CANADA DEBATE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Banning Ads for Tobacco Might Slash Culture Funds CANADA DEBATE

Article excerpt

For a decade, a summer-long fireworks extravaganza called "Symphony of Fire" has sparked ticket sales at a Toronto theme park, Ontario Place. But promoters fear a fizzle if Canada enacts tough legislation curbing tobacco advertising.

Members of Parliament, who thought a crackdown on cigarette advertising would be a public opinion slam-dunk, were shocked last week as cultural groups rushed to the tobacco industry's aid. The distressed groups testified that the bill would dry up $44 million of tobacco company funding for cultural events - everything from tennis tournaments to jazz festivals.

In Ontario Place's case, the entire $3.6 million fireworks budget is funded by tobacco companies, which warn that next year's sparklers could go up in smoke if the law is adopted. Race-car organizers suggest that the high-pitched whine of IndyCar racers won't be heard anymore in Vancouver and downtown Toronto if the new legislation bans cigarette logos from the cars. Then there's Canada's biggest tennis tournament, the "du Maurier Open," and the big golf tournament, the "Export A Skins Game." Export A and du Maurier are Canadian cigarette brands. But Joe Volpe, a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Liberal Party, is unimpressed by dire warnings of impending cultural collapse. "I find the whole idea that the government is somehow responsible for the revenue of these organizations a whole lot of poppycock," says Mr. Volpe. "The government didn't ask them to look to tobacco for their dollars. Our clear responsibility is to help safeguard the health of Canadians." Still, he and others concede some disappointment at the unexpected clout of groups who rallied to the tobacco industry's defense at the 11th hour. That's because in the week before it recessed on Dec. 13, the Commons was on the verge of passing the new Tobacco Act. The legislation would severely curtail tobacco sponsorship and advertising. The bill appeared set to pass despite tobacco industry resistance and claims that it infringed the companies' rights to free speech. But that was before the cavalry arrived in the form of arts and sports groups who warned of the demise of their cultural events without tobacco funding. Crowding into the hearing rooms, the groups were instrumental in winning a key five-week delay. Disappointed antismoking advocates say the "fast-track" (turned slow-track) legislation is vulnerable because the industry and its supporters will have time to develop proposals to water down the legislation. "This legislation is politically difficult for the government," says Heather Selin, a policy consultant for the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, a health lobby group. "They don't want to ban tobacco sponsorship outright because they are not prepared to compensate the arts and sports community." The reason for the tobacco legislation is that Canada has been without effective restrictions for over a year. …

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