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Up from the ashes: the fight for a new Tobacco Act
  1. STAN SHATENSTEIN, Editor
  1. Tobacco News Online
  2. Montréal, Québec
  3. Canada;
  4. shatensteins{at}sympatico.ca

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    Up from the ashes: the fight for a new Tobacco Act is an entirely different sort of film, but one of great merit as well. Although lacking the atmospherics and breadth ofSmoke and mirrors, this Canadian case study provides practical tools and direction for tobacco control advocates in all countries.

    Director Jack Micay, a former president of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, has gone behind the scenes with Canada's health community, filming strategy sessions as the key players lobbied for what became the Tobacco Act of 1997.

    Parts of Canada's earlier legislation, the Tobacco Products Control Act, had been challenged in court by the tobacco industry and, in September 1995, certain sections of the law were struck down as being “inconsistent with the right of freedom of expression”. Faced with renewed industry advertising, and with the reversal coming just a year after a catastrophic slashing of tobacco taxes, the anti-tobacco forces had to move swiftly and navigate delicately to restore some of the old law's provisions.

    Micay's film chronicles some real successes and some equally notable failures, always asking pertinent questions: How best to frame ads in response to the industry's splashy campaigns? How hard to push a Health Minister who appears to be onside, but who is lacking Cabinet support? And, as the industry pushed the agenda onto the safe grounds of sponsorship restrictions, how could the message be moved back to a public health track?

    As a measure of the complexity of the process, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny had to vote against his own tougher amendments, just to ensure passage of a minimally acceptable bill. Since the Tobacco Act's passage, Kenny has managed the rare feat of getting a solid piece of anti-tobacco legislation passed in the Senate, only to have it blocked by his own party in the House of Commons.

    Politics is clearly a complicated game and, in a simple, sober fashion,Up from the ashes shows how its rules are laid out and played out. A cautionary tale, and a worthy one.

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