Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Appointment of Ujjal Dosanjh as Health Minister could mean stronger federal action against tobacco
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) expressed hope that the federal government will take a stronger stand against tobacco companies as a result of the appointment of the Hon Ujjal Dosanjh as Minister of Health.
“Mr. Dosanjh brings with him a unique experience to the portfolio of health minister,” said Dr. Atul Kapur, president of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “He is the only Health Minister to have been appointed who has sued tobacco companies.”
In 1998, as Attorney General in the government of British Columbia, Ujjal Dosanjh launched that province’s legal action against tobacco companies. He said: “The business practices of the tobacco industry are unconscionable. Tobacco companies should be held accountable for the devastating effects of their harmful products.”
Mr. Dosanjh’s experience in managing this litigation should strengthen the federal action against tobacco companies, Dr. Kapur suggests. “The B.C. government was the first to lay the blame for smoking at the feet of tobacco companies, the first to take strong anti-industry measures and, not coincidentally, the first to see smoking rates fall below 20%.” Smoking rates in B.C., now at 16%, are by far the lowest in Canada.
“As provincial Attorney General, Ujjal Dosanjh knew that tobacco companies should be held accountable, and that their harmful practices should be stopped,” said Dr. Kapur. “As federal Health Minister, we will expect him to translate that knowledge into federal policy.”
The B.C. lawsuit claims that tobacco companies have known for decades the harmful and addictive nature of tobacco products; that they have failed to warn consumers of the dangers of using their products; that they targeted children, that they conspired to suppress research; and that they marketed ‘light’ cigarettes as safer when they knew they were not.* The British Columbia lawsuit against Big Tobacco has not yet been resolved (in May 2004, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the legislation that enabled the legal action against a tobacco industry constitutional challenge).
“Because the federal government has allowed it to continue, tobacco companies continue to market “light” cigarettes, continue to suppress or downplay the true health effect of smoking, and continue to market to children. Just as the tobacco companies are accountable for their actions which harm public health, governments are accountable for their lack of action in protect public health,” said Dr. Kapur.
* (The B.C. legal claim can be read at: http://www.healthservices.gov.bc.ca/tobacco/litigation/index.html)