OTTAWA – Canada’s largest tobacco manufacturer says it is being treated unfairly after a government health committee refused to hear its input in person on proposed changes to smoking laws.
“How a committee can pass a tobacco bill without hearing from a tobacco company that has close to 50-per-cent market share is beyond us,” spokesman Eric Gagnon said Monday.
But the decision to exclude Imperial Tobacco boiled down to not having enough time to hear from everyone, said Marilyn Gladu, vice-chair of the House of Commons committee, adding that the company was invited to make a written submission.
“Too many witnesses, not enough panels,” said Gladu, a Conservative MP. “We had as much of a spectrum as we could.”
The finalized list of presenters included an association representing convenience store retailers and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc., a tobacco manufacturing company owned by industry giant Philip Morris.
Also on the presentation list were representatives from Health Canada and various health advocacy groups, including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The proposed legislation would, if passed, roll vaping products into existing tobacco regulations, expand plain-packaging rules for tobacco products and forbid the marketing of flavoured e-cigarettes to young people.
Gagnon says plain-packaging rules will make it even easier for the contraband cigarette industry to thrive in Canada, where it is already estimated to control at least a fifth of the market.
“Plain packaging is perhaps the greatest gift the government can give to the illegal operators,” Gagnon said. “Plain packaging forces the legal industry to make our products look like illegal ones.”
He called out the government for acknowledging the importance of allowing branding for recreational marijuana so buyers can tell the difference between legal and illegal pot products, saying the same logic should apply to tobacco.
Parliamentary records show Gagnon presented last April to the Senate committee in charge of vetting the legislation before it was sent to the House of Commons.
Rob Cunningham, spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society, said it is untrue that plain packaging contributes to an increase in contraband tobacco products, calling it an effective deterrent among young people.
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Plain-packaging legislation has been adopted by eight countries, with 15 more considering it, he said.
“The evidence is overwhelming. That’s why so many countries are doing it,” Cunningham said.
He described scenes of mountains and marshmallow cookouts pictured on one version of a promotional Canada Day package used in recent years.
“Tobacco companies should not be allowed to make packaging for an addictive, deadly product more attractive,” he said. “They’re mini-billboards in the hands of kids.”