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Efforts rewarded; Canada's Tobacco Act upheld

MONTREAL — A Superior Court justice, Andre Denis, upheld Canada's strict 1997 Tobacco Act, which puts picture-based warning labels on cigarette packages and bans advertising in broadcast outlets, billboards, street kiosks, bus panels and store displays.

The judge also upheld a ban of tobacco companies sponsoring sports and cultural events.

Judge Denis noted that cigarettes kill 45,000 Canadians a year. "They (tobacco companies) are trying to save an industry in inevitable decline and they have every right to do so," Denis wrote. "Their rights, however, cannot be given the same legitimacy as the government's to protect public health."

A Church member, Ken Kyle, director of the public issues office of the Canadian Cancer Society, was involved in this and other lobbying efforts for parliament to pass laws to help prevent cancer. He has been involved in this effort for more than 15 years.

Implications of this judgment are immense, he said. "For example, the Tobacco Act was the authority for picture-based government health warnings covering 50 percent of each side of cigarette packs. Other countries, such as Brazil, have copied this Canadian innovation. This provision is being considered in the current negotiations under the auspices of the World Health Organization for a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"The tobacco industry would have liked to have seen these warnings knocked out by the courts because of their world precedent-setting nature," he said.

Brother Kyle, who is also Church director of public affairs in Ottawa, was co-chairman of the international Smoke Free Skies campaign, which organized a successful lobby for the International Civil Aviation Authority to ban smoking on international commercial flights. He also lobbied for Parliament to ban tobacco advertising, which was successfully passed into law in 1988, but which was overturned by the Supreme Court 5-4 in 1995. Following that, the Tobacco Act was passed by Parliament in 1997, and this is the law that was upheld by Judge Denis.

"The Canadian tobacco companies have now failed in their attempt to get the Canadian Tobacco Act overturned in court," he said.

Also upheld was a requirement that the manufacturers provide extensive reports to the government of Canada on product ingredients and emissions as well as marketing activities and research. "The judge delivered a powerful criticism of the tobacco industry that is unprecedented in its magnitude in Canadian courts," he said. "The court concluded that the tobacco industry advertised to youth, engaged in deceptive advertising, failed to disclose its knowledge of the health effects of tobacco use and was a willing accomplice to cigarette smuggling."

Rob Cunningham, the attorney representing Brother Kyle's office, said Ottawa should seize the momentum created by the ruling and amend the law to eliminate prominent retail displays of tobacco products as well as what he called "deceptive" descriptions such as "light" and "mild."

"This is a massive and total victory for public health in Canada today," he said. "In historic terms, the tobacco industry has never been criticized to the extent that it has in this judgment."

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