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Traditional forms of tobacco advertising are banned in Canada, and likely to stay that way after a landmark ruling last December from the Quebec Superior Court dismissing a constitutional challenge from the cigarette companies. However, extensive rows of cigarette packages, in quantities far greater than are necessary to supply consumers, are still a big part of the tobacco industry’s marketing plan. Commonly called “power walls”, these rows of tobacco products are found in stores across Canada and in many other countries. These displays are in clear view of children, placed next to confectionery, and reinforce the idea that smoking must be both very common and socially acceptable.
In June 2001, the province of Saskatchewan tabled legislation to ban tobacco product displays in public areas where young persons are permitted access.
A group proclaiming themselves to be “poor” retailers mounted an expensive campaign urging retailers to oppose the legislation. Not to be outdone, the provincial health coalition countered with an information and lobbying campaign of its own. The retailer group later admitted to being part of a tobacco industry coalition.
In July 2001 the Tobacco Control Act was unanimously passed by the provincial legislature and became law in March 2002. According to enforcement officers, implementation has gone smoothly. Compliance and acceptance are high and there have been no significant problems economically or otherwise. No tobacco products can now be publicly displayed at retail outlets in the province, thus ensuring that the availability of these products more adequately reflects their deadly nature.
In May, Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc, part of BAT, reacted to the loss of this last avenue to market to youth by launching a lawsuit. The province’s minister of health, the Hon John Nilson, observed: “Our legislation must be working if this tobacco company is suing us . . . The Government of Saskatchewan will defend The Tobacco Control Act from this attack. We will continue to prevent tobacco companies from displaying tobacco products that encourage people, especially youth, to smoke.” The legal challenge was dismissed in September, but application to appeal was granted the following month. As with other measures aimed at reducing smoking, the tobacco companies never give up the fight. Nor, given the health issues involved, will Saskatchewan.
The banning of tobacco product displays is a new wave in tobacco control. Similar legislation has been passed in Iceland, Ireland, the Canadian province of Manitoba, and is being considered by other Canadian provinces and Australian states.