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I Canada, the federal government predicts that tobacco industry products will cause the premature death of a third to a half of long-term smokers.1 Health Canada predicts that out of a population of 30 million, the tobacco industry will kill more than three million Canadians now alive.
In 1998, a panel of 26 health experts acting on behalf of 130 health agencies and professions published a strong warning to the federal government. The expert panel said: “By any measure, by any standard, tobacco use in Canada constitutes a public health crisis . . . tobacco industry products will kill 3 million Canadian presently alive. We know the measures now that are necessary to prevent the addiction of our youth . . . There is nothing magical involved in preventing this epidemic. What is needed is political will.”2
A public health problem of this magnitude should raise obvious questions. Where is the deep sense of urgency and outrage that should accompany a prediction of such gravity?3 What kind of warnings should be placed on a product that addicts and results in the premature death of almost half of its users. What kind of warnings would be fair for a product that causes more avoidable mortality in Canada than motor vehicle deaths, suicide, murder, alcohol, and AIDS combined? A good start might be warnings that tell the truth.
Instead, we send conflicting messages to the public. We tell them that there are very serious risks associated with tobacco products. Then we allow our major cause of preventable death to be sold in some of the most beautiful packaging ever created. Children cannot help but notice that it is sold next to candy in every corner store. Equally surreal, we allow these same products to be advertised on posters and …