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New survey shows Canadians want Big Tobacco to pay for tobacco reduction efforts

Three national health organizations are marking World No Tobacco Day this week by sending a pressing message to provincial Premiers. The Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Lung Association and Heart & Stroke are calling for significant tobacco reduction measures to be included in a major lawsuit settlement currently under negotiation with Big Tobacco companies. Canadians agree, with 87% supporting a requirement that a significant portion of the settlement funds be used for initiatives to reduce smoking among adults and youth, according to a recent national opinion poll.* 

“The lives and health of Canadians are at stake in these historic negotiations, and we want to ensure their voices are heard,” says Andrea Seale, CEO, Canadian Cancer Society. “We are deeply concerned that the negotiations are being held behind closed doors and that tobacco companies are at the table but health organizations are not. Provinces must ensure that public health is the top priority in the negotiations.”

Provincial lawsuits are collectively seeking more than $500 billion in damages for tobacco-related health care costs making these the largest lawsuits in Canadian history. The defendants are Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, and JTI-MacDonald Corp, as well as their foreign parents. The lawsuits pursue claims for unparalleled wrongful industry conduct that for decades has addicted youth, has caused vast devastation through disease and death, and has contributed considerably to the crisis in the health care system. 

“A settlement must be about forever changing tobacco industry behaviour,” says Terry Dean, President and CEO, Canadian Lung Association. “It must include substantial long-term funding for tobacco control as well as policy measures to control the industry. After a settlement, it cannot be ‘business as usual’ for tobacco companies.” 

In an open letter to provincial Premiers released today, the three organizations outline public health measures that should be included in a settlement. These include allocating at least 10% of the distributions from the settlement to a fund, independent of government, to reduce tobacco use. Other measures include banning all remaining tobacco promotion, requiring the industry to make extra payments if tobacco reduction targets are not met, and publicly disclosing the millions of pages of secret internal company documents.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect kids, prevent disease, save lives, and reduce health care costs that are a result of these deadly products,” says Doug Roth, CEO, Heart & Stroke. “Provinces must use the leverage they have in the negotiations to achieve a major public health victory.”

US state governments achieved measures to reduce tobacco use in similar lawsuits settlements in 1998. The health organizations state in their letter that Canadian provinces can — and must — do far better in 2023.

Tobacco use remains a leading cause of cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease. It is also the leading cause of disease and death in Canada, killing 46,000 Canadians annually. According to the most recent data, 12% of Canadians aged 12 and over are current smokers — a long way from the federal target of less than 5% tobacco use by 2035. 

*The Ipsos poll was conducted for the Canadian Cancer Society, March 17-21, 2023, online, with a sample size of 2,000, and a margin of error plus/minus 2.5% 19 times out of 20.

For more information, please contact:

Sarah Butson
Public Affairs and Policy Analyst 
Canadian Lung Association 

Kate Comeau
Communications Advisor 
Heart & Stroke 

Rob Cunningham
Lawyer and Senior Policy Analyst
Canadian Cancer Society