News Releases

December 1, 2003

"Happy Birthday?"
PSC observes second anniversary of unfulfilled promise to ban misleading labelling of cigarettes.

(Ottawa) - Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada today lamented the failure of Canadian legislatures to protect public health by banning misleading terms on cigarette packages.

"Nine hundred and thirteen days have passed since the former Minister of Health requested that tobacco companies remove misleading terms like "light" and "mild" from their cigarette packages, and two years have elapsed since he issued a formal notice of regulatory intent ban them -- and yet we seem no closer today to ending this dangerous marketing practice," said PSC president, Dr. Atul Kapur.

In late November, 2001, the Hon. Allan Rock said "We believe that the use of descriptors such as 'light' and 'mild' on tobacco product packaging is confusing smokers and misleading them to believe that these products are less harmful to their health... we are taking the first step towards the adoption of regulations to help protect the health of Canadians." (Health Canada press release, November 28, 2001)

On December 1, 2001, the government published a "notice of intent" in the Canada Gazette, Part 1, proposing regulations to "prohibit the display of 'light' and 'mild' descriptors on tobacco product packaging."  Since that date, no further regulatory steps have been announced.

"The government has had ample time to clarify its intentions and to make clear whether it will or will not continue to allow these misleading terms," said Dr. Kapur.  "Before there is a change in administration, the public should be informed of the reason that the current government has failed to fulfill this objective."

PSC is calling on the Minister of Health to take one of the following three steps before the change in government scheduled for December 12, 2003:

  • Make public how and when these descriptors will be removed from Canadian cigarette packages

  • Confirm or deny the rumours that Justice Canada does not believe that there is the legal authority under the Tobacco Act to ban these terms

  • Make public any decision to abandon this policy initiative.

"Either Health Canada believes in this initiative, or it doesn't," explained Dr. Kapur.  "If it no longer believes that this is an important measure, it should make that clear.  If there are legislative or other legal problems, these should similarly be made public so that Parliament is better able to amend the law."

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Cynthia Callard, Executive Director,   233 4878


Chronology of Events
May 31,  2001 to December 1, 2003.

May 31, 2001 - World No Tobacco Day.  Hon. Allan Rock asks tobacco companies to voluntarily remove "light" and "mild" terms from cigarette packages within 100 days, and asks the Ministerial Advisory Council on Tobacco Control to recommend actions in the event the companies do not comply.  (Health Canada press release)

21 August 2001:  Environics reports that two-thirds of Canadian support ending the use of "light" on cigarette labels.  (Environics news release)

8 September 2001 - 100 days pass without the cigarette companies removing misleading descriptors from their packages. (Imperial Tobacco's response)

1 November 2001 – The Health Minister Allan Rock releases the findings of the Expert Panel, which advises that regulations under the Tobacco Act be passed to ban the use of the descriptors. (Health Canada press release)

27 November 2001:  United States' National Cancer Institute scientific report concludes no benefit from lower tar cigarettes.  (Press release)

1 December 2001 – Notice of Intent published in Canada Gazette proposing ban on the terms “light” and “mild”. (Gazette) Deadline for public responses to notice of intent is January 15, 2002..

January  2002:  Brazil bans use of "any type of descriptor, on the packaging or in advertising material, such as: classes (s), ultra low tar, low tar, smooth, light, soft, leve, moderate tar, high or any others that could induce  consumers to an erroneous interpretation as to the tar contained in cigarettes.” (Brazilian regulation)

November 2002:  The World Health Organization Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation recommended a ban on all misleading health and exposure claims and related packaging. (SACTOB recommendations)

December 2002:  Health Canada research shows that 2 of every 3 smokers of 'light' cigarettes switched to light based on the belief that there would be fewer health risks. (Health Canada overview of 2001 CTUMS findings)

December 10, 2002:  The European Court of Justice rejected a tobacco industry challenge to the EU directive banning the terms  'light' and 'mild', 'low-tar', etc.  (Court ruling)

December 13, 2002:  The Quebec Superior Court upheld the federal Tobacco Act against an industry claim of unconstitutionality. The law allows the federal government to regulate how cigarettes are labelled. (Justice Denis' ruling)

May 8, 2003:  Lawyers from the Klein Lyons firm file a class action lawsuit against Imperial Tobacco for damages associated with the deceptive trade practice of 'light' labels on cigarette packages.  (Statement of Claim)

May 20, 2003:  World Health Organization adopts text for a global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  The treaty calls for an end to all misleading descriptors, including the use of such terms as "low-tar" and "light." (WHO press release)

June 16, 2003 - Complaint filed by the Non Smokers Rights Association with federal Competition Bureau regarding the deceptive trade practice of labelling cigarettes as "light" or "mild. " (NSRA Press Release)

July 15, 2003:  Canada signs the framework Convention on Tobacco Control - but doesn't say when it will ratify the treaty, or whether it will implement the requirement to ban the terms "light" and "mild"  (Health Canada Press Release)

September 30, 2003:  "Low-tar" and similar misleading terms are banned on all cigarettes sold in the European Union.  (EU directive)