Canada falls short of its tobacco treaty commitments
Health groups urge government to move quickly to bring Canada’s tobacco laws up to world standards.
Canada’s health groups today released a report on Canada’s progress towards fulfilling its obligations to the new global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Their report shows that while Canadians continue to support stronger measures against tobacco use, the federal government has failed to implement key provisions of the treaty.
“This month marks the fourth anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the tobacco treaty,” said Francis Thompson, Tobacco Control Advisor for HealthBridge, “yet not once in the past four years has the government asked Parliament to make the legislative changes necessary to bring Canada’s laws into line with its treaty obligations.”
The FCTC is the first public health treaty negotiated under the World Health Organization. It was negotiated over four years and came into force in 2005, and is one of the most rapidly adopted modern treaties. One hundred and sixty nations have become party to the treaty. Through the FCTC, countries undertake to implement comprehensive tobacco control measures, including large health warnings, comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, smoke-free spaces, controls on smuggling, and price strategies.
“At the beginning of the treaty negotiations, Canada was ahead of other countries in tobacco control,” said Mr. Thompson. “But because other countries have used the treaty to accelerate policies and programs in ways that Canada has not, in some aspects there is now less protection from tobacco marketing in Canada than elsewhere.”
This civil society report on Canada’s progress in implementing the FCTC implementation comes on the eve of the third Conference of the Parties to the FCTC, which will be held in Durban, South Africa from November 17 to 22.
“This Conference of the Parties comes as the grace period to allow governments to bring their laws into compliance is expiring,” explained Neil Collishaw, research director for the Canadian Cancer Society. “Canada has missed some important deadlines, and has provided no assurance that these failings will be addressed.”
The groups drew attention to four areas of particular concern: the failure to require health warning labels to appear on all tobacco products; the failure to provide protection from second hand smoke to workers and the public living in First Nations territories, the failure to stop tobacco companies from using deceptive marketing practices and the failure to meet minimum treaty standards for restrictions on tobacco advertising.
“These failures have real health consequences, and they affect some of the most vulnerable populations,” stressed Neil Collishaw. “Two-thirds of a million young Canadians have reported using flavoured cigarillos, which are routinely sold individually with no health warnings. First Nations communities, where tobacco laws are frequently not applied, are home to about 300,000 people.”
“In many important areas – like smoke-free public places and workplaces, bans on displays of cigarettes at retail and protection from second hand smoke for children in cars – Canada continues to make significant progress, but in recent years most of the new measures have resulted from the actions of territorial and provincial governments, not the federal government,” said Melodie Tilson, Director of Policy for the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association. “The federal government continues to drop the ball.”
The groups found no justification for the government of Canada to have failed to meet its FCTC commitments. “Certainly Canada has the expertise to surpass the minimum treaty standards,” said Ms. Tilson. "However, many developing countries with next to no resources have managed to move ahead with new legislation faster than has been the case in Canada.”
“The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Canada, A Civil Society ‘Shadow Report’” was prepared by the Global Tobacco Control Forum. The Forum is an umbrella organization of health agencies engaged in domestic and international tobacco control efforts. Members endorsing the report include the the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Public Health Association, Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac, HealthBridge, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, and the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit.
Copies of the report can be obtained by e-mailing
After November 17, 2008, an electronic copy can be downloaded by clicking here
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
Non-Smokers’ Rights Association