News Releases

January 24, 2001

Health Groups Applaud BC's Leadership in Tobacco Control

(Ottawa) - Three of Canada's leading tobacco control agencies today applauded the relaunch of British Columbia's lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

"British Columbia has provided important leadership as the first province to hold the tobacco companies accountable for the harm they have caused," said Ken Kyle, direction of the Canadian Cancer Societies Public Issues Office. "The example set by British Columbia is benefiting Canadians in all regions, as other jurisdictions are building on B.C.'s experience as they develop their own legal actions." Newfoundland is modelling its actions against the tobacco industry on British Columbia, and other provinces are rumoured to be preparing similar suits.

"Law-suits against tobacco companies are not just about money," said Francis Thompson, policy analyst with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. "They are an effective way of changing tobacco industry behaviour, and achieving real changes in the way tobacco products are marketed and produced. Only through judicial processes can the actions of these companies be brought fully to public light."

Through litigation, U.S. state governments were able to achieve a number of concessions from tobacco companies, including an end to many forms of cigarette promotions. The lawsuits also resulted in the release of millions of pages of tobacco industry documents which now assist the development of better regulations on tobacco production.

British Columbia first announced that it would be taking legal steps against the tobacco companies in 1997, and by 1998 it had passed the requisite legislation and filed suit. Portions of the enabling law were struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court in February 2000 following a constitutional challenge by the tobacco companies. The essential provisions of the law were upheld by the Court, and the legislation was revised and passed last summer.

"British Columbia has the most aggressive and most effective tobacco control strategy in Canada," said Neil Collishaw, research director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "The lawsuit is part of B.C.'s comprehensive strategy to reduce smoking, which employs a wide-range of tactics to reduce tobacco use." B.C. has maintained high taxes on cigarettes, spends more per capita on tobacco control than any other jurisdiction in Canada, has pioneered the world's toughest regulations on disclosure of cigarette additives and ingredients, and has the boldest school programs and advertising campaigns.

Only four years old, B.C.'s tobacco-control strategy is already producing results. The most recent Statistics Canada survey shows that smoking rates in B.C. are lower than any other jurisdiction in Canada: only 20% of British Columbians smoke, compared with 25% nation-wide. Among youth, British Columbia's results are particularly impressive, as the rates for teenagers between 15 and 19 years of age in B.C. are more than five percentage points lower than in any other province. (20% of B.C.'s teens between 15 and 19 smoke compared with the national average of 28%, the second lowest rates are in Ontario, where 25% in that age group smoke regularly).

"The British Columbia lawsuit against the tobacco companies underpins a solid and effective approach to reducing the leading cause of preventable death," said Ken Kyle. "By holding the tobacco companies legally accountable for their actions, the government is solidifying every other public measure against tobacco use.

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Canadian Cancer Society 613 565-2522 extension 301 Non-Smokers' Rights Association 613 230-4211; 
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada 613 233 4878; cell (613) 792-3875