Top court steps back into tobacco-warning debate

Vancouver Sun February 19, 2007

Ottawa – Three big tobacco companies will square off against the federal government today as the Supreme Court of Canada considers whether graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and restrictions on tobacco advertising are constitutional.

The Supreme Court is stepping  back into the debate 12 years after it first ruled, by a tight 5-4 margin, that a total ban on advertising violated the freedom of commercial expression rights of cigarette companies.

This time around, the court will consider whether a redrawn law that severely restricts smoking ads, crafted in response to Ottawa’s 1995 loss in the top court, is also unconstitutional.

The revamped Tobacco Act is effectively an advertising ban that merely “pays lip service”to the Supreme Court’s call for a constructional law, lawyers for Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., JTI-Macdonal Corp. and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. argue in a written court submission.

The act, among other things, restricted advertising to adult publications and establishments, such as bars and magazines, and imposed a phased-in ban on sponsorship at events.

The government, tobacco companies and anti-smoking groups have been in and out of the courts for two decades fighting over laws governing cigarette advertising and whether a ban is constitutionally justified given that smoking is a health hazard.

The Canadian Cancer Society, which is intervening in the latest appeal, says times have changed since the supreme Courts’ last ruling and there is now a complete advertising ban i most countries.

The three big tobacco companies are also appealing federal regulations that force them to print on cigarette packages graphic health warnings with color photos.

The Canadian Cancer Society says that lung caner is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Smoking is responsible for killing 45,000 people annually, accounting for 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in Canada.

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