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Anti-smoking group slams voluntary agreement reached with tobacco companies.

 (Ottawa – November 9, 2006) “The decision of the Competition Bureau to end its investigation on the sale of light cigarettes and accept instead a voluntary agreement to suspend the use of a very few marketing terms is a public health loss masquerading as a victory,” said Neil Collishaw, research director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) and former chair of the Minister of Health Advisory Council expert panel which advised the government in 2001 to end all forms of marketing deception.

The Ottawa based group is concerned that this voluntary agreement will impede the development of effective regulations by Health Canada that end all forms of marketing deception.

 “This voluntary agreement is a ruse,” added Neil Collishaw.  “It will not protect Canadians from tobacco industry deception. They have already colour coded or number-coded their packages. The agreement will allow them to continue to deceive their customers, all the while pretending that they have done something good for public health."

PSC is concerned that six years of regulatory foot-dragging may have contributed to this setback. In May 2001, then Health Minister Allan Rock asked the tobacco companies to voluntarily stop using deceptive descriptors like ‘light’ and ‘mild’.  He asked them to do so within 100 days. After the companies failed to comply, a notice of intent to regulate was published in the Canada Gazette on December 1, 2001.

The companies have used the almost 2000 days that have now passed  to change their packaging, labeling and marketing so these terms are no longer needed to confuse smokers into thinking that there is a difference in the amount of tar and nicotine they absorb from “mild” or “strong” cigarettes.

“Experience in the European Union and Brazil has shown that removing the terms without also prohibiting other forms of misleading packaging is ineffective,” said Neil Collishaw. Brazil banned the use of the terms in January 2002 and the European Union joined suit in September 2003.  In both jurisdictions, the companies replaced the prohibited terms with colours.

PSC recommends that the government now implement a comprehensive set of measures to reduce deceptive cigarette marketing, and ban each of the deceptive practices used by tobacco companies, including:

1. The use of misleading brand descriptors that falsely convey differences in ‘strength,’ such as ‘light,’ ’ultra-light,’ ‘mild,’ ‘ultra-mild,’ ‘smooth,’ etc.  (This is contained in today’s voluntary agreement)

2. The use of misleading colours and packaging elements that falsely convey differences in strength, such as the use of lighter colours or more white space to falsely imply that these products are less harmful.

3. The display of numbers on packages that falsely convey differences in the amount of compounds inhaled between brands or sub-brands of cigarettes, and that fail to tell consumers how much they are inhaling.

4. The marketing and display of cigarettes in ways that falsely conveys distinctions between types of cigarettes.

5. The use of brand extensions (several types of one brand of cigarettes) that falsely convey distinctions between types of cigarettes.

6. The use of cigarette designs and related packaging that falsely convey a smoking experience of ‘less hazardous' smoking, while in reality they are inhaling just as much poison as ever.

The implementation of this set of measures would be facilitated, the group suggests, by implementing plain or generic packaging.

“History shows that the road to increased smoking is lined with voluntary agreements with tobacco companies,” said Neil Collishaw.  “It is a worrisome sign that our government may have forgotten this important lesson.”


For information:  Neil Collishaw or Cynthia Callard 
           613 233 4878.

 Links:  PSC Backgrounder
Proposals to end the deception of 'light' and 'mild' cigarettes. (2005)

Examples of cigarettes using colour coding or number coding to replace the need for terms like 'light'