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Canadian Supreme Court Ruling Upholds Strong Tobacco Control Laws, Should Spur Similar Efforts Globally

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 28, 2007

Washington, DC — The Supreme Court of Canada today delivered an important victory for public health that has global implications in upholding the country’s strong tobacco control laws, which include strong restrictions on tobacco advertising and sponsorships and large, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. Canada has been a world leader in adopting strong measures to reduce tobacco use, especially in the area of marketing restrictions and health warnings, and also has strong constitutional protections for freedom of expression.

Today’s unanimous ruling shows that nations can take strong, effective actions to reduce tobacco use and save lives that are consistent with free speech protections. This decision reaffirms the right of governments to take effective action to reduce tobacco use, which kills more than five million worldwide each year, and to place limits on the ability of tobacco companies to mislead consumers or to market their deadly and addictive products in ways that make them appealing and attractive to youth.

The Canadian law upheld by today’s ruling requires large, pictorial health warnings that cover 50 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs; bans “false, misleading or deceptive” marketing of tobacco products; bans tobacco sponsorships; and places restrictions on tobacco advertising, including limiting advertising to adult publications and establishments and prohibiting “lifestyle advertising.”

This ruling is timely as the world’s nations prepare to meet June 30-July 6 in Bangkok, Thailand, for a conference on implementing the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This ruling should spur nations to quickly implement the strong, science-based measures called for by the treaty. The treaty, which has been ratified by 148 countries, commits nations to:

  • Ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (nations with constitutional constraints must take action to the extent allowed by their constitutions).
  • Implement large health warning labels that cover at least 30 percent of the front and back of the cigarette pack. The treaty recommends that warnings cover at least 50 percent of both panels and include pictorial or graphic images.
  • Prohibit tobacco product labels that are false, misleading or deceptive, including terms such as “low-tar” and “light” that convey misleading health benefits.
  • Implement measures to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. At the Bangkok meeting, nations should adopt standards for implementing this provision that call on nations to enact policies requiring 100 percent smoke-free workplaces and public places.
  • Increase tobacco product prices.
  • Combat cigarette smuggling.
  • Regulate the content of tobacco products.

Tobacco use killed one hundred million people in the 20th Century and if current trends continue, will kill one billion people in the 21st Century. Unless urgent action is taken, tobacco will kill 10 million people a year by 2020, 70 percent of them in developing countries. The good news is that nations can prevent much of this disease and death by aggressively implementing the scientifically proven measures enshrined in the tobacco treaty. If adult cigarette consumption is reduced by 50 percent worldwide, nations can avert more than 300 million needless deaths from tobacco within the next 50 years. Today’s ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court should motivate nations around the world to take aggressive action now.