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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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/20130617_C9034_PHOTO_EN_28117.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/20130617_C9034_PHOTO_EN_28118.jpg
SOURCE: Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)
For further information:
Senior Policy Analyst
Canadian Cancer Society
613-565-2522, ext. 4981