Tough new tobacco rules proposed in Canada

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OTTAWA--Sweeping new tobacco regulations would make Canada a "world leader" in tough packaging standards under newly proposed advertising rules and retailing restrictions to protect youth from marketing messages.

Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock has outlined new "Tobacco Labeling Regulations" that would roughly double the size of health messages featured on tobacco packaging. Under the new rules, marketers would have to devote 60% of the space on front panels of their packages to stark new warnings on health and toxic ingredients.

Among other proposals are new limits on in-store displays and new reporting regulations, which call for tobacco companies to disclose manufacturing and marketing details.

"Our priority is to protect young Canadians and others from inducements to smoke," says Mr. Rock. "The more we can limit their exposure to tobacco promotions in places such as corner stores, the better the long-term odds are that they will remain or become non-smokers."

Canada's major tobacco marketers contend the new rules will cost them "tens of millions of dollars" and will do little to curb youth smoking.

"This is more about politics and about a health minister wanting to appear to be tough on the tobacco companies," responds industry spokesman David Laundy at the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council, which represents major marketers RJR-Macdonald, Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges.

"This is more of the same (unsuccessful) approach to these issues that we have had in Canada over the last 10 years," says Mr. Laundy, citing a decade of growing marketing restrictions and government "harassment" of tobacco marketers.

Health Canada expects the new reporting requirements -- which would force companies to reveal certain marketing information and some production costs -- will come before Canada's Parliament over the coming months.

Canada's tobacco packaging and retailing proposals are open for formal industry or public comment until March 12; the country's tobacco marketers say they'll continue pressing the government to loosen the planned changes.

"We expect it will likely be physically impossible for the companies to make such changes to the packaging within the (government) time frame," says Mr. Laundy.

Health officials in the province of British Columbia introduced similar tobacco packaging and disclosure rules last June, prompting the tobacco marketers to challenge several of the initiatives on constitutional grounds. That dispute is still before the courts.

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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