Canada: point of sale win—again
The story so far: Rothmans Benson & Hedges (RBH), Canadian subsidiary of BAT, took legal action in 2002 to try to get back the “power wall” displays of cigarette packs that had just been banned in the province of Saskatchewan. But luckily, Saskatchewan had an excellent health minister, who said, “Our legislation must be working if this tobacco company is suing us… [we] will defend the Tobacco Control Act from this attack” (Canada: demolishing the power walls. Tobacco Control 2003;12:7–8). At last, that vigorous defence has paid off.
The RBH action was initially dismissed, but the company appealed on the basis that the province’s law conflicted with federal law. In September 2003, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal reversed the earlier judgement, so declaring inoperative the provision prohibiting the visible display of tobacco products. The government of Saskatchewan then appealed to the county’s top court, the Supreme Court of Canada. Supporting Saskatchewan was the federal government and five other provinces, as well as national health organisations working against tobacco’s big diseases—cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease, and the medical association.
The appeal hearing took place on 19 January this year, which happened to be “Weedless Wednesday” in Ontario’s National Non-Smoking Week, whose theme was ‘Out of sight – Out of mind’, a reference to a retail display ban being promoted by Ontario health groups. Students and health advocates were staging a protest in front of the Supreme Court even as the nine judges hearing the case asked to hear from RBH, and questioned its lawyers. The judges did not seem pleased with the answers they got, and took only a 15 minute recess before returning to say it would not be necessary to hear from the appellant, or from other parties who might want to join the suit. They had unanimously decided that the appeal was allowed. The entire procedure had taken only 90 minutes—usually Supreme Court decisions take around six months.
So the law banning point of sale displays in any premises accessible to children under 18 is once again in force in Saskatchewan. Other provinces are also free to enact their own bans. Manitoba and Nunavut, the large, mainly Inuit populated northern territory, which already have similar laws, delayed their implementation pending the outcome of the Saskatchewan case, so are expected to put them into practice. There is now a real chance that before too long, the whole of Canada will be free of major cigarette pack displays.