Canada's war on tobacco turns 50

June 17, 1963 landmark statement by Canada's health minister concluded that smoking causes lung cancer

TORONTO, June 14, 2013 /CNW/ - Monday, June 17, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of a historic statement by Canada's Minister of National Health and Welfare, Judy LaMarsh, that smoking causes lung cancer. On that day, Minister LaMarsh rose in the House of Commons and declared: "There is scientific evidence that cigarette smoking is a contributory cause of lung cancer and that it may also be associated with chronic bronchitis and coronary heart disease."

Canada was a different place in 1963. Smoking was permitted virtually everywhere, including hospitals, schools, airplanes and restaurants. Knowledge of the health effects was poor. Taxes were low and cigarettes were cheap. Cigarettes were widely advertised on TV, radio, billboards, newspapers and magazines. There were no health warnings on cigarette packages.

Along with her declaration in the House of Commons, LaMarsh also announced that a national conference would be held in the autumn of that year to fully discuss the health evidence about smoking: "Proposals can be made for a positive and effective program regarding this problem," she said. Following the conference, in 1964, the Department of National Health and Welfare launched a public awareness campaign.

Interestingly, LaMarsh's 1963 statement came 7 months before the much more famous U.S. Surgeon General's report stating that smoking causes lung cancer, released on January 11, 1964.

In the 50 years since 1963, many battles have been fought in Canada for social change and tobacco control legislation and great progress has been made in reducing the numbers of smokers. In 1965, 50% of Canadian adults smoked (61% of men and 38% of women). As of 2011, that number has dropped to 17%.

Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry did not take kindly to LaMarsh's public statement about the dangers of smoking, responding with denial. The industry told the 1963 conference: "The fact is that the 'mounting evidence' consists of repetition of the same charges restated by different people. This 'evidence' was and remains inconclusive, no matter how often it is repeated and restated." The tobacco industry has continued its concerted efforts to recruit new smokers and keep them smoking ever since.

Canada's record

Canada's efforts to reduce smoking in the 1960s focused on public awareness. This was followed by municipal smoking bylaws in the mid-1970s, and tax increases and substantive legislation in the 1980s. Over the years, Canada has often demonstrated world leadership:

  • Canada was the first country to ban smoking on all domestic airline flights (1987) and international flights of its domestic airlines (1994).

  • Calgary was the first to host a smoke-free Olympics (1988).

  • Canada was first country to require package health warnings using graphic pictures (2001) and covering 50% of the package front and back (2001).  Earlier, Canada was the first country to require package warnings in black and white (as opposed to package colours) (1994) as well as the first to require a 35% warning size (1994) and a 20% warning size (1989).  In 2012, the warning size was increased to 75%.

  • Saskatchewan was the second jurisdiction in the world (after Iceland) to ban the visible display of tobacco products at retail (2002).

  • Canada was the first country to ban all flavours (except menthol) in cigarettes and some little cigars, through Bill C-32 which came into effect in 2010.

See media backgrounder #1 for more highlights of Canada's 50-year war on tobacco

The current situation in Canada

While great progress has been made, efforts to reduce smoking rates further continue to be hampered by the tobacco industry's marketing tactics and opposition to stronger tobacco control measures.

There are still 5 million smokers in Canada. That's 17% of Canadians (14% of women and 20% of men).

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada, killing more people than the next top 3 cancers combined (breast, prostate and colorectal). In 2013, a total of 20,200 Canadians will die of lung cancer.

Smoking accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths. It is linked with an increased risk for many types of cancer, including lung, larynx, oral, colorectal, stomach, pancreas, cervical, ovarian, bladder and kidney.

Lung cancer deaths rates have been dropping in Canadian men, with men's smoking having begun to drop in the 1960s. But lung cancer deaths among women have not yet decreased (the drop in smoking by women didn't start until later - in the 1980s).

What's next in the war on tobacco?

"While we have made significant progress in reducing smoking, an enormous amount of work remains to be done," says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society. "It is essential that government regulatory and programming initiatives be strengthened so that smoking rates can be driven down as fast as possible."

For example, tobacco control measures should include:

  • a ban on all flavoured tobacco products, not just the cigarettes and some little cigars covered by federal legislation

  • plain packaging, as was implemented in Australia December 1, 2012 and announced in Ireland on May 28, 2013. Plain packaging would still keep picture health warnings on packages.

  • smoke-free requirements for selected outdoor areas such as patios, parks and playgrounds

  • further tobacco tax increases along with contraband prevention measures

  • effective public health outcomes of the provincial government medicare cost recovery lawsuits against the tobacco industry

  • a reduction in the number of retail locations selling tobacco

  • sustained, well-funded government prevention and cessation programs

"The tobacco industry has engaged in 50 years of wrongful behavior," says Cunningham.  "Had the industry behaved responsibly after Health Minister LaMarsh's statement, smoking rates would have declined much faster and vast numbers of Canadians would not have succumbed to cancer and other debilitating diseases. Instead, the tobacco industry engaged in a sustained campaign of denying the health effects, marketing cigarettes as glamorous, advertising to kids, misleading smokers through so-called "light" and "mild" cigarettes, and using lobbyists and lawyers in efforts to block legislation.  It is a tragedy that so many preventable deaths could have been avoided."

See media backgrounder #2 for facts on tobacco

About the Canadian Cancer Society

For 75 years the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. Visit cancer.ca or call us at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).


Media backgrounder #1: Highlights from 50 years of war on tobacco

1963       Federal Health Minister Judy LaMarsh declares that smoking is a contributory cause of lung cancer and may also be associated with chronic bronchitis and coronary heart disease.
       
1963      Canadian Medical Association President urges doctors to stop cigarette smoking, at least during professional duties.
       
1964      US Surgeon General's Report concludes that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women, and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.
       
1969      CBC television stops accepting tobacco advertising.
       
1969       House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs recommends that tobacco advertising be banned and that many other tobacco-control measures be adopted.
       
1972       Tobacco industry voluntary code amendments remove advertising from television and radio, though industry would later use sponsored events to get around this measure.  Also, a weak, voluntary warning begins to appear in small print on the side of the package.
       
1973      Canadian National Railway sets aside nonsmoking sections on some trains between Montreal and Toronto.
       
1976       City of Ottawa passes first municipal smoking bylaw in Canada restricting smoking in indoor public places, effective 1977.
       
1977      National Non-Smoking Week begins as an annual event in Canada, held in January.
       
1982     Smoking is banned on domestic airline flights of 2 hours or less.
       
1982     Tobacco taxes begin to rise above rate of inflation.
       
1986      US Surgeon General concludes that secondhand smoke causes disease, including lung cancer, in otherwise healthy nonsmokers.
       
1987     Federal and provincial governments announce Tobacco Diversification Plan to help farmers exit from tobacco growing.
       
1987     Federal regulation bans smoking on domestic flights of 2 hours or less.
       
1988      US Surgeon General concludes that the pharmacologic and behavioural processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine heroin and cocaine addiction.
       
1988     WHO organizes first World No Tobacco Day. This day has continued on May 31 every year.
       
1988      Federal Tobacco Products Control Act adopted to ban tobacco advertising.
       
1988      Calgary Winter Olympics become first smoke-free Olympics.
       
1988      Federal Non-smokers' Health Act adopted to implement strong smoking restrictions in all federally-regulated workplaces.
       
1989     Pursuant to Non-smokers' Health Regulations, smoking banned on all domestic airline flights in Canada.
       
1993      Federal Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act adopted to increase the minimum federal age of sales of tobacco to minors from age 16 to age 18. Today, 6 provinces and one territory have a minimum age of 19.
       
1993     Lung cancer surpasses breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among Canadian women.
       
1994     Federal government and Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI reduce tobacco taxes.
       
1994     McDonald's announces that all of its company-owned restaurants in North America will be smoke free.
       
1994     Federal Tobacco Products Control Regulations amended to require world precedent setting black and white health warnings covering 35% of the package front and back.
       
1994      House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recommends plain packaging.
       
1994     Ontario becomes first province to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies.  All provinces except BC have now done so.
       
1994     Ontario and Nova Scotia become first provinces to ban vending machine cigarette sales.  Today, federal legislation prohibits vending machines except in bars, and six provinces/territories have full bans on vending machines.
       
1995      Supreme Court of Canada by narrow 5:4 majority strikes down advertising ban in Tobacco Products Control Act.
       
1996     Vancouver becomes first municipality to adopt a bylaw requiring restaurants to be 100% smoke-free.
       
1997     Federal Tobacco Act adopted, implementing strong restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, to replace the Tobacco Products Control Act.
       
1998     British Columbia becomes first province to file medicare cost recovery lawsuit against the tobacco industry.  Nine provinces have now filed lawsuits, and the 10th province, Nova Scotia, has announced its intention to do the same.
       
2000      Federal Tobacco Products Information Regulations adopted to require world precedent setting package health warnings that include graphic pictures, and that cover 50% of the package front and back.
       
2000      Canadian Cancer Society establishes Smokers' Helpline in Ontario, providing smokers a toll-free service for assistance on how to quit. The Society would later also provide a similar service in SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PEI.  Quitlines are now accessible from all provinces and territories.
       
2001      Saskatchewan becomes first province to adopt legislation to prohibit visible display of tobacco products in retail stores, effective in 2002. All provinces and territories would later do the same.
       
2001     Federal government announces record level of funding for tobacco control (subsequent to passage by Senate of Bill S-20, Tobacco Youth Protection Act, and similar bills).
       
2003     WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the international tobacco treaty, approved.
       
2003     Federal Tobacco Act ban on sponsorship of sport and arts events comes into effect.
       
2004     Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Nunavut become first provinces/territories to adopt legislation making all restaurants and bars 100% smoke-free.  All provinces and territories have now done so.
       
2005     Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upholds Saskatchewan ban on retail displays.
       
2007     Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upholds federal advertising restrictions and sponsorship ban in Tobacco Act., and federal regulations for 50% picture warnings.
       
2008     Wolfville, NS becomes the first municipality to ban smoking in vehicles with kids. Today, 8 provinces have implemented such a measure with provincial legislation.
       
2008     Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. plead guilty to illegal tobacco contraband for actions in the early 1990s.  JTI-Macdonald would do the same in 2010.  Fines and civil payments total $1.7 billion.
       
2009     Parliament adopts Bill C-32 to ban flavoured cigarettes and little cigars (effective July 5, 2010), and to ban tobacco advertising in magazines, newspapers and other publications.
       
2012     Class actions seeking $27 billion in damages from tobacco industry begin trial in Quebec Superior Court. Trial is expected to continue into 2014.
       
2012      New federal regulations come into effect increasing the size of health warnings to 75% of the front and back of cigarette packages and including a toll-free quitline number and web address in the warnings.

Media backgrounder #2: Facts on tobacco

  • Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada, causing 37,000 Canadian deaths each year.

  • Every day, on average, 70 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and 55 Canadians will die of the disease.  In 2013, there will be 25,500 new cases of lung cancer and 20,200 lung cancer deaths.
  • Smoking causes about 30% of all cancer deaths and approximately 85% of lung cancer deaths. It is linked with an increased risk for many cancers, including lung, larynx, oral, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, ovarian, cervix, colorectal, pharynx, esophagus, nasal cavity, bone marrow and hepatoblastoma (a childhood cancer).

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women and accounts for more deaths than for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined.
  • In men, the incidence and death rates for lung cancer began to level off in the mid-1980s and have been declining ever since. In women, the lung cancer incidence and death rates are only now stabilizing. The difference in rates between men and women is thought to be due primarily to the fact that women's smoking rates did not begin to decline until the 1980s, whereas in men, smoking rates began to decline in the 1960s.

  • On average, one in 11 men is expected to develop lung cancer during his lifetime and one in 13 will die of it. One in 15 women is expected to develop lung cancer during her lifetime and one in 18 will die of it.

Smoking rates

  • In 1965:
    • 50% of Canadians over the age of 15 were smokers.

    • 61% of men over the age of 15 were smokers, declining to 20% in 2010.

    • 38% of women over the age of 15 were smokers, declining to 14% in 2010.

Smoking in youth

  • In 2011, smoking among youth aged 15-19 years was 12% (approximately 256,000 teens).

  • 13% of males and 11% of females aged 15-19 years were current smokers.

For help with quitting

Smokers wanting support to quit can call the national toll-free numberRC at 1-866-366-3667 or visit gosmokefree.gc.ca/quit

About the Canadian Cancer Society

For 75 years the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. Visit cancer.ca or call us at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

 

Image with caption: "A cigarette ad from the 1950s (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20130614_C7174_PHOTO_EN_28008.jpg

Image with caption: "Estimated number of deaths by type of cancer in Canada, 2013 (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20130614_C7174_PHOTO_EN_27892.jpg

SOURCE: Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)

For further information:

Sasha Anopina
Bilingual Communications Specialist
Canadian Cancer Society
sasha.anopina@cancer.ca
416 934-5338

Rob Cunningham
Senior Policy Analyst
Canadian Cancer Society
rcunning@cancer.ca
613-565-2522, ext. 4981


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