Imperial Tobacco makes a rare public appearance in Alberta

Canada’s largest supplier of the country’s leading avoidable cause of disease and premature death made a rare public appearance recently on Alberta Primetime.

To listen to Imperial Tobacco’s well-honed spokesperson, Eric Gagnon, you would almost believe that he just represents another legal business that is doing its best to deliver smooth satisfaction and lasting pleasure to its customers and shareholders.

After all, think of all the rules and regulations that Canadian tobacco companies are required to navigate in order to supply a huge market of millions of reluctant smokers who would like to quit but can’t. 

Never mind the fact it’s easier to get a new cancer-causing tobacco product on the market than a new cancer treatment.  And that it’s easier to purchase tobacco than to obtain a prescription to treat nicotine addiction.  Or that tobacco that is as widely available as bread and milk.

Poor Big Tobacco.  Oh the burden of marketing the only legal product that kills one-half of its long term users when used exactly as intended.  Oh the shame of watching thousands of teens getting addicted to your deadly products each year.  It’s too much for almost anyone to bear.  That is ALMOST anyone.

Unfortunately the cordial howdy-do Primetime interview neglected to reveal a number of important facts about Imperial Tobacco and its exploits.

For example, although the issue of contraband tobacco was discussed, there was no reference to Imperial Tobacco’s 2008 conviction for tobacco smuggling that resulted in the largest criminal fine in Canadian history.

Likewise there was only a passing reference made to the Alberta government’s $10 billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco asserting that the defendants (including Imperial Tobacco) “targeted youth with…misrepresentations and deceptions knowing their particular vulnerabilities”, etcetera, etcetera.

And although Imperial’s spokesperson admitted that menthol cigarettes represent only four percent of the total smoking market, he somehow forgot to mention that youth smokers are using menthols at over SEVEN TIMES the rate of their adult counterparts (30% vs. 4%) according to the latest Youth Smoking Survey.

Instead, Imperial’s spokesperson decided to repeat the tired old industry lines about how difficult it is to regulate “common sense” and “good parenting”.

If “common sense” means stopping tobacco companies from marketing to kids, then I must agree with Imperial.  If “good parenting” refers to monitoring your kids 24/7 to prevent their exposure to (1) fruit, candy and mint flavoured tobacco products; (2) retail price promotions; (3) attractive packaging, (4) “slim” and “superslim” cigarettes and (5) gratuitous smoking in movies, on television and in video games, then again I must agree with Imperial.  It is indeed very difficult to regulate these activities when transnational tobacco companies are fighting such restrictions tooth-and-nail in Canada and abroad.

For example, no fewer than TWENTY-SEVEN tobacco lobbyists have signed up just to fight tobacco legislation in Alberta alone.

This brings me back to Imperial’s rare public appearance in Alberta and its strong objections to a ban on menthol cigarettes, tobacco tax increases and government lawsuits. 

Could it be that Imperial is truly worried about the Alberta government’s efforts to reduce tobacco use? 

Personally I can’t think of a better litmus test for effective health policy than public objections from Imperial Tobacco.

The Alberta government may now proceed with the confidence of knowing that Imperial Tobacco objects to its otherwise roundly applauded efforts to protect kids from the company's lethal products.

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Action on Smoking & Health
ASH is Western Canada's leading tobacco control organization.