Canadian Parliament moves to snuff out tobacco advertising

Tobacco advertising will soon be history in Canada. Ottawa has launched a massive attack on the tobacco industry, that would ban the advertising of tobacco products. The ban includes the sponsorship of cultural and sports events.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government got rare all-party support in the House of Commons this week for the proposed legislation.

``If tobacco were discovered tomorrow, no government would permit its sale, much less its advertising,'' Cabinet Minister Jake Epp told the House of Commons in the opening debate.

There was little debate on the issue, and all parties agreed to the ban. Some opposition members of Parliament wanted the government to go even further. Liberal MP Sheila Copps urged the government to outlaw cigarette vending machines.

The Tobacco Products Control Act would ban all tobacco advertising and promotion by Jan. 1, 1989. The first phase of the bill would outlaw tobacco advertising in newspapers as early as Jan. 1, 1988. It would also outlaw tobacco ads on radio and TV, although those have been kept off the airwaves for many years by an informal government edict.

Sponsorship of sports and cultural events by tobacco companies will be banned. Many sports events had already started to turn down tobacco money. But some theater groups say they hope to keep the grants.

The tobacco companies say unless they are allowed to promote their products, they will not contribute to the arts. ``I can see no justification why we should spend all this money on things other than to legitimately and in an elevated fashion promote our products,'' said Wilmat Tennyson, president of Imperial Tobacco, the largest tobacco company in Canada.

But a coalition of artists has criticized the attitude of the tobacco companies and has urged the government to go ahead with the bill. The artists say tobacco manufacturers always said they were spending money on the arts as a sign of corporate goodwill, but their attitude now tells a different tale.

``It is coming out they really are using sponsorship as a method of promoting their own specific brands,'' said Liona Boyd, a guitarist who signed the artists' petition. ``It is obvious what they are really trying to do, encourage smoking.''

One of the most effective lobbies in Canada has been the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. Its executive director, Garfield Mahood, says the tobacco companies are launching a mail-in campaign to members of Parliament to get them to oppose the bill against tobacco advertising, especially the clause about sponsorship. He feels the bill could still be defeated unless there is more resolve on part of the government because some MPs could be swayed by industry pressure.

The tobacco companies say the proposed law limits freedom of speech, because it curtails the right to advertise tobacco. Mr. Epp denies this. ``Freedom of speech must be accompanied by the responsible exercise of that freedom,'' he said. ``It does not include the freedom to promote lethal and addictive products.''

The Canadian government also plans a total ban on smoking in federal government offices by Jan. 1, 1989.

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