HEALTH

Ottawa’s message to smokers: butt out

MALCOLM GRAY May 4 1987
HEALTH

Ottawa’s message to smokers: butt out

MALCOLM GRAY May 4 1987

Ottawa’s message to smokers: butt out

HEALTH

The gesture was largely symbolic—but Treasury Board President Robert de Cotret’s personal commitment to the government’s sweeping antismoking policy will likely cause him acute discomfort. At a news conference in Ottawa last week, federal spokesmen revealed plans to ban all tobacco advertising and promotion by 1989, phase out smoking in federal offices and other work areas across the country and force tobacco companies to print blunter warnings about the health hazards of their products. And to demonstrate his support for those measures, the 43year-old de Cotret pulled a package of Belvedere Mild cigarettes from his jacket and announced that he was quitting smoking. Declared de Cotret, who admitted that he has frequently tried to quit since he began smoking at the age of 16: “This time it’s for keeps.”

De Cotret’s pledge aside, the new policies represent a significant step toward Ottawa’s declared goal of a smoke-free society by the year 2000. Health and Welfare Minister Jake Epp said that an outright ban on smoking would have been unenforceable—and would require the presence of what he termed a “cigarette Gestapo.” But he argued that stern measures were needed because smoking, which he called the largest single cause of preventable diseases in Canada, causes 32,000 deaths each year. Still, some critics, including Thomas Crowther, publisher of Fredericton’s Daily Gleaner, attacked the government’s plans to eliminate advertising for a legal product. Declared Crowther, who is also the chairman of the 92-member Canadian Daily Newspaper Publishers Association: “The government is in essence telling the free press what it will or will not print.”

Epp insists that the health risks smokers create for others in the same workplace—so-called passive smoking —justify the planned restrictions. Declared Epp: “Smokers still have their rights, but they should not be allowed

to impose their bad habits on others around them.” But some smokers who cannot smoke at work regard such bans as an imposition. At the Toronto Globe and Mail, for one, smoking has been prohibited throughout the newspaper’s headquarters since April 1, 1986. As a result, the 50 or so smokers among the Globe’s 200 newsroom staff members gather in a converted wire room when they need a smoke break.

One of them, copy editor Ronald Glover, described the smoking lounge as a “little hovel.” Added Glover: “It’s just another infringement on freedom of choice which is being eroded bit by bit.”

The proposed tobacco products control act would effectively ban all forms of tobacco advertising—in all publications, on radio and television, on billboards and posters as well as instore signs, contests and other forms of promotion. The bill would still allow tobacco companies to sponsor sporting and

cultural events—but only under corporate names instead of specific cigarette brands. Under the terms of the proposed legislation, tobacco ads in newspapers would stop by Jan. 1, 1988. Billboard ads would disappear six months later, with magazine ads for tobacco

products ending by Jan. 1, 1989. Anyone defying the proposed law would face a fine of up to $100,000 and six months imprisonment for a first offence.

In response, an industry spokesman said that Epp’s planned policy had stunned and disappointed tobacco firm officials and infringed the companies’ freedom of speech. Said Jean-Louis Mercier, chairman of the Montreal-based Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council: “By imposing a complete ban on the advertising of g tobacco products, the

0 minister seeks to deny z an industry its legal g right to communicate

1 with Canadians.”

Mercier, president of Imperial Tobacco Ltd. of Montreal, noted that his firm and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. and RJR-Macdonald Inc. of Toronto had spent $70 million on newspaper and magazine ads alone last year. And he predicted that up to 2,500 advertising jobs might be lost because of the federal prohibition. But he insisted that the ban would have little effect on cigarette sales. Declared Mercier: “Advertising never made anyone smoke. The big losers will be the people who get the advertising dollar.”

Indeed, Stanley Buda, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Ted Bates Advertising Inc., said that his company faced losing its fifth-largest client—Imperial Tobacco—within 18 months. Added Buda, who criticized the government

for banning advertising while continuing to allow the sale of tobacco products: “If the real intent is to stop smoking, then take tobacco off the market.” And James Warrillow, senior vice-president of Canadian publishing for Maclean Hunter Ltd., noted that Canadians would still see ads for cigarettes after the federal ban took effect. Said Warrillow: “More than 50 per cent of the magazines sold in this country are American, so the general public is still going to be exposed to tobacco advertising.” And, he added, Maclean’s magazine alone would lose $1 million in yearly advertising revenue from tobacco companies.

Tobacco firms will even be unable to use cigarette packages as advertising vehicles under the planned new order. For one thing, the proposed law would compel the companies to devote at least 17.5 per cent of the space available to warn-

ings about such smoking-related hazards as cancer, emphysema and heart disease. And Epp said that the current message, which recommends that smokers avoid inhaling, is “absolutely ridiculous.” He added that the packages would also list the toxics in cigarette smoke and tobacco, including such substances as carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine.

Meanwhile, countrywide restrictions on smoking in federal work areas could be phased in by October. Initially, federal workers would have to take cigarette breaks in specially designated locations, but de Cotret said that he hoped to eliminate on-the-job smoking by civil servants by Jan. 1, 1989. In the same way, Labor Minister Pierre Cadieux said that he wanted to see smoking limited to special areas in federally regulated

workplaces by the end of the year. Voluntary compliance there would reduce smoking in banks and most transportation and telecommunication companies. Indeed, a successful federal drive could affect as many as one million workers across the country.

Still, those goals may encounter resistance from officials of the 180,000-member Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)—the largest union representing federal civil servants. Although PSAC officials say that they endorse the concept of a smoke-free workplace, they add that the government can only achieve that goal by installing separately vented smoking areas. Federal officials say that such renovations would be too expensive and cost as much as $500 million. But in Ottawa, PSAC vice-president Jean Bergeron rejected that argument. Declared Bergeron, who noted that smoking at PSAC headquarters is confined to a sepa-

rately vented cafeteria: “Why can’t the government do the same thing? Every washroom is ventilated separately. If they can ventilate the washrooms, why wouldn’t it be feasible for a smoke room?”

Widespread opposition aside, the federal initiatives clearly reflect the growing strength of the antismoking movement. For one thing, Canadians are smoking fewer cigarettes: Statistics

Canada figures show that in 1982 smokers purchased a record 66.3 billion cigarettes, but that total fell to 55.4 billion cigarettes last year. And smokers are a declining minority. Indeed, the most recent Gallup poll in that area, conducted last June, showed that only 35 per cent of the adult population regularly uses tobacco—and the overwhelming majority of those smokers said that they wanted to quit.

As it is, those who persist in smoking are increasingly subject to restrictions outside the privacy of their own home. In Quebec, the government passed the first provincewide law in the country last January, banishing smoking from such places as government offices, medical waiting rooms and enclosed areas where sporting and cultural events take place. Still, 40 per cent of Quebecers are smokers—and a provincial surtax on tobacco generated the $117 million needed to provide the new roof for Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. But with the roof freshly installed, provincial officials used the law to announce that a ban on smoking in the stands would take effect in two weeks. Now, other provinces are considering following Ottawa and Quebec’s lead—and in the Northwest Territories, an outright prohibition against smoking in territorial government offices will take effect in June.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, where one of the toughest municipal bylaws on the continent requires employers to provide nonsmoking workers with smoke-free air, some city residents say that city streets are now more redolent of tobacco than many offices. Although smokers among the 1,200 employees at B.C. Hydro’s 21-storey downtown headquarters can light up in only one section of the ground-floor cafeteria, Hydro administrator and nonsmoker Charles Brennen said that he often eats his lunch indoors. Said Brennen: “I find it difficult to find a place in the open air where there’s no one smoking. But inside, the air is cleaner and healthier.” Coupled with the recent federal initiatives, Vancouver’s five-month-old bylaw sends a clear message to the country’s smokers: it is time to butt out.

MALCOLM GRAY

HILARY MACKEN