June 2, 2017
The Senate yesterday passed a bill to enact Australian-style regulations on plain packaging of tobacco products. Manufacturers have threatened to challenge the bill as a breach of the Trademarks Act.
“We have received information from both sides of the question,” said Senator Judith Seidman (Conservative-Que.). “Controversies exist.” Seidman noted while France, the U.K. and Ireland have enacted similar legislation, “it is too soon to understand the effects.”
Cabinet’s Bill S-5 An Act To Amend The Tobacco Act would allow the Department of Health to regulate packaging of all tobacco products. Australia in 2012 enacted a Tobacco Plain Packaging Act requiring that all cigarettes be sold in plain brown boxes with prominent health warnings, and banning corporate logos and claims like “light” or “mild”.
The Senate social affairs committee earlier heard testimony the Australian law prompted 100,000 smokers to quit. Tobacco sales in that country fell from $3.7 billion annually to $3.2 billion after the law was introduced.
Health Canada in a 2017 report Consultation Summary: Plain And Standardized Packaging For Tobacco Products said it anticipated legal challenges from industry if Bill S-5 is passed into law. The legislation now proceeds to the Commons for debate.
“International business associations raised concerns that plain and standardized packaging would be a barrier to market entry and could limit retail trade and investment from foreign parties,” said Consultation Summary.
“If at the end of all this we are stripped of our trademarks, one of the options we will consider is challenging these measures in court,” Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and external affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada, said in an earlier interview. “It’s never something we want to do; it’s never something we take lightly. But if our trademarks are stripped away, it’s one of the options we will have to consider.”
Bill S-5 would also regulate vaping products, including restrictions on sales to minors and a ban on celebrity endorsements and lifestyle advertising. “This legislation is an attempt to balance the government’s objectives of protecting youth from the dangers of nicotine addiction, while allowing adult smokers to access vaping products,” said Senator Seidman. “As committee members heard, this balance is a precarious one.”
Witnesses at the social affairs committee said there is little research on the long-term effects of inhaling vaporized chemicals. “We are kind of offering a leap of faith here,” said Seidman. “We don’t know a lot.”
Senators adopted an amendment drafted by Seidman that Health Canada review provisions of the Act within three years of it becoming law, and report findings to Parliament. “If you look at the fact there are so many regulations to be written that are not yet clear, and the way the regulations will build in flexibility to broaden or restrict, it seemed to all of us at committee that three years was ample and fair,” said Seidman.