BEHAVIOR

The new opposition to public smoking

BRUCE WALLACE June 9 1986
BEHAVIOR

The new opposition to public smoking

BRUCE WALLACE June 9 1986

The new opposition to public smoking

BEHAVIOR

James Corcoran, a 55-year-old Montreal advertising copywriter, is part of a shrinking minority of

Canadians who continue to use tobacco products despite repeated warnings about the health risks involved—and attempts to restrict smoking in public places. Corcoran, who smokes about 40 filtered Benson & Hedges Ultra-Deluxe Lights each day, says that he has “stopped going to movie theatres and hockey games where cigarettes are banned because I just can’t sit for a long time without smoking.” The Liberal government of Quebec plans to make it even more difficult to smoke outside the home. Quebec Environment Minister Clifford Lincoln has introduced a bill providing for fines of as much as $1,000 for people convicted of smoking in such places as government offices, medical waiting rooms and enclosed areas where sporting or cultural events are taking place—and it allows municipalities to extend the ban to other areas. Declared Lincoln: “The bill is a symbolic expression of public opinion.”

The proposed law, which would take effect on Jan. 1, is the first attempt to govern smoking in public across an entire province. For smokers and the tobacco industry alike, the looming Quebec restrictions clearly reflect the growing opposition to smoking in public. Air Canada sent a similar signal to travellers on April 27 when it introduced a three-month trial ban on smoking on 44 of the 76 daily flights between Toronto and Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa. And late last month Pharmacie Brunet president Michel Cedrin announced that the nine stores in his Quebec-based chain would become the first domestic drugstore chain to stop selling tobacco products. As well, federal Health Minister Jake Epp has announced that he is considering tougher measures against public smoking in an attempt to meet his goal of a “smoke-free Canada by the year 2000.” As a result of such changes, tobacco farmers are feeling the effects of falling cigarette sales, and competition among the tobacco companies has sparked a countrywide discount pricing war.

Still, even in a shrinking market, 6.5 million Canadians use tobacco regularly—mainly cigarettes—and they spent a staggering $6.1 billion on tobacco products last year alone. But unlike the 1960s and 1970s, when tobacco sales remained constant, Canadian to-

bacco consumption has declined in recent years. According to the Montrealbased Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council (CTMC), tobacco firms sold 60 billion cigarettes last year—a 10-per-cent decline since 1982.

That drop coincides with demands from antismoking groups for cleaner public air, a campaign which drew sup-

port from recent U.S. and Canadian medical studies showing that so-called “secondhand” or “sidestream” smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars is a health hazard for nonsmokers. That research has fuelled the campaigns of such antismoking groups as the 400member Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP) in Edmonton, founded in 1975. Declared past president Dr. Roger Hodkinson, a local pathologist: “Two or three years ago we were a voice in the wilderness, but it is now fashionable to talk about secondhand smoke.”

In fact, Air Canada launched its trial

ban on smoking after the airline received more than 200 letters last year from angry passengers asking the airline to eliminate the practice on flights. Indeed, airline surveys last year showed that 35 per cent of smokers taking short flights preferred to sit in the nonsmoking sections. Declared Donald Roy, the Air Canada executive who ini-

tiated the program: “I have a three-inch thick pile of letters from customers and they are running 95 per cent in favor.” The ban has angered Canada’s four major tobacco companies. Officials from Imperial Tobacco and Benson & Hedges (Canada) Inc. of Montreal and Rothmans of Pall Mall Canada Ltd. and RJR-Macdonald Inc. of Toronto have suggested to their employees that they use Air Canada only as a last resort while travelling on business. In a letter he sent to Air Canada, Imperial Tobacco chairman Jean-Louis Mercier complained that the airline’s policy was “unfair to smokers.” But Roy replied that the airline has received numerous requests to extend the ban to flights in Western Canada, and airline officials are considering a smoking ban on such shorthaul routes as the 40-minute flight between Calgary and Edmonton.

Tobacco bans were also one of the major topics of discussion when several hundred pharmacists from across the country met in Quebec City last week for the annual meeting of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association. Declared association president Georges Roy: “Selling tobacco, the number 1 cause of

death, is not an image we want to project.” But because cigarette sales account for 14 per cent of drugstore revenues, according to association estimates, many pharmacists are reluctant to stop selling tobacco products.

All major large pharmacy chains across Canada not only continue to sell cigarettes, but display them prominently. Said Michel Lesieur, an executive vice-president of Pharmaprix, the Quebec branch of Shoppers Drug Mart, which, with 450 stores across Canada, is the largest chain in the country, “Tobacco is a legal product. If there is a consumer demand, we will fill it.”

Shoppers Drug Mart is a division of Montreal-based Imasco Ltd., a giant diversified company whose holdings include Imperial Tobacco, Canada’s largest cigarette manufacturer. But Imasco vice-president Torrance Wylie stressed that the parent company did not influence Shoppers officials. Said Wylie: “Shoppers makes its own decisions. This is a decentralized operation.”

Because they are selling fewer cigarettes, tobacco companies are competing fiercely for loyalties of those who continue to smoke, using price discounting to lure customers to their

brands. Rothmans touched off the price war last September when it introduced a new, larger packet of 30 Number 7 cigarettes for the price of a conventional 25-cigarette size—about $3 in Ontario. The other companies responded by slashing $4 off the standard carton price of $18 for select brands, a practice which limits the firms’ return to about 85 cents for each 200-cigarette carton sold. Declared Benson & Hedges spokesman Cynthia Von Maerestetten: “We are deliberately projecting a loss situation this year. A discount is not promotion, it’s taking a loss. Our focus is on retaining and increasing our market share.” Such discounted brands as Imperial Tobacco’s Peter Jackson have quadrupled their sales, according to company officials.

Antismoking groups say that the results of increased competition have

been graphically demonstrated in the crucial Ontario market, where the discount war began. And they cite a recent poll commissioned by Health and Welfare Canada and released by the Toronto-based Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA). It showed that the number of regular smokers in Ontario between the ages of 12 and 29 increased by 20 per cent last year—but in the rest of Canada the number of smokers in the same age group decreased by 13 per cent. Declared David Sweanor, staff lawyer for the 6,000member NSRA: “Youth responds to

price discounts.”

As the companies fight for market share, the farmers who supply the tobacco are expecting another poor return this year. Southern Ontario’s tobacco belt, five counties strung along the shores of Lake Erie, grows 89 per cent of the country’s tobacco. But the 2,000 families farming the once-lucrative crop will produce only 115 million pounds this year. In return, they will receive a minimum of $1.76 per lb. from the tobacco companies—a price the farmers consider to be too low. Only three years ago the region produced 200 million pounds. Declared 41year-old Hugh Zimmer, a third-generation tobacco farmer who grows up to 700 acres of tobacco over six farms near Brantford, Ont.: “We are the weakest link in the chain. The tobacco companies have the profitability to diversify. We don’t.”

The troubles in the tobacco belt are

not a concern for antismoking activists fighting a habit which they say causes illnesses that kill more than 30,000 Canadians each year. And last week Dr. John Kirkbride of the federal health department’s occupational health unit told 300 delegates attending a Calgary conference on smoking in the workplace that 13 scientific studies had linked secondhand smoke and cancer. For her part, Judy Hancock, 32, a health education consultant who is the current president of Edmonton’s GASP, declared, “When I hear that the tobacco farmers are hurting, I don’t feel sorry for them.” She says that the pro-

posed Quebec legislation provides important legal backing in a campaign to make smoking in public a socially unacceptable practice. And while Montreal advertising copywriter Corcoran does not believe that cigarettes are about to join spittoons as objects no longer acceptable in polite society, he is preparing to endure more cigarettefree outings in future. Said Corcoran: “Some nonsmokers have a sanctimonious attitude that they are somehow better than you are. But if the law passes, I will follow the rules.” The law still has to go through the Quebec legislature, but antismoking activists look beyond its passage to a time when such regulations are no longer needed.

— BRUCE WALLACE in Montreal with NOMI MORRIS in Toronto, CHRISTOPHER DON VILLE in Edmonton and correspondents’ reports