Our One Cent’s Worth on the Tobacco Sponsorship Furor

By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Montreal, Canada.

Our take on Bill C-71, The Tobacco Act.

These days in Canada, where there’s smoke, there’s politics. Drug addiction, lung cancer, and smoky jazz festivals hover in the mix.

Here in Montreal there has been a firestorm of media coverage over the federal government’s proposed bill to regulate cigarette advertising and sponsorship, Bill C-71, The Tobacco Act. The bill was supported by the House of Commons, and now awaits the Senate’s approval.

In the interests of keeping the country together, supporting the arts, and saving lives, here’s a solution that could gain support from many of the bill’s fiercest critics. And it would cost but a penny. But first a little background.

Our national government points out that 40,000 Canadians die from smoking related illnesses each year, 11,000 of them in Quebec. They aim to reduce this epidemic by limiting advertising and sponsorship, thereby reducing the allure of cigarettes. They also are keen to decrease the $3.5 billion health care tab attributed to cigarette smoking. Sounds responsible.

But one part of the bill has raised hackles: it proposes reducing the size of sponsorship logos. This size restriction would still be less onerous than those in France, Australia, or the U.S. But many festivals are worried that with smaller logos the cigarette companies’ level of sponsorship would also become smaller, or disappear altogether.

As the scepter of doom and gloom and mass unemployment in Montreal is waved, Quebec politicians are running scared. Sovereignist politicians from the Bloc Quebecois have been railing in the House of Commons about how devastating the proposed legislation would be to cultural events.

But given the devastation wreaked by the tobacco industry on society at large, one wonders if there is a solution that would keep the cultural events alive, without their having to sell their souls?

Simple. Tax each pack of cigarettes just one cent, and with it create a fund that would support cultural activities that might be hurt by the changes in sponsorship rules. One cent a pack would raise about $28 million, almost the same amount the cultural groups and festivals now receive from tobacco sponsorship.

This dedicated tax is not a new idea: rumour has it that Cabinet considered it, but it was shot down by the Minister of Finance, Paul Martin. One can’t help but wonder if the fact that he was once a board member of Imasco Limited (the parent company of Imperial Tobacco) had anything to do with his intransigence.

The tobacco industry claims that sponsorship is not a form of advertising. Yet one study showed that junior high students were thirteen times more likely to see a “Player’s Limited Racing” ad as an ad for cigarettes than for a racing event. Surely advertising and sponsorship are effective ways to capture new tobacco addicts, otherwise why would the tobacco companies bother to spend so much money on it?

And don’t be fooled when tobacco executives claim that advertising doesn’t lure new addicts. “The tobacco advertising campaigns targeting women… were associated with a major increase in smoking uptake that was specific to females younger than the legal age for purchasing cigarettes.” (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994)

The tobacco ads targets youth, though they try to deny it. Yet Imperial Tobacco itself stated in 1987: “If the last ten years have taught us anything, it is that the industry is dominated by the companies who respond most effectively to the needs of younger smokers.”

We’ll tolerate their small logos, at least for the time being, and work for the day when the tobacco companies cough up the $3.5 billion in health care costs they directly cause in Canada alone. Already tobacco companies are on the defensive in the US, fighting to their last gasp against a class action suit launched by twenty one states to recover tobacco related health care costs. The days of smoke and mirrors are ending.

Cities across Canada would be more sombre places without the unique cultural events and music festivals, (though losing the Grand Prix race would make Montreal quieter and probably more livable!). So why not demand support for the festivals as well as a commitment to improving our health? We can have it both ways. It would be a shame if we ended up with a craven government afraid of a mere penny tax.

 

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