The Multinational Monitor

JUNE 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 6

T H E    F R O N T

Taking on Tobacco in Canada

OTTAWA -- New initiatives in Canada that restrict the ability of tobacco companies to entice people to become hooked on cigarettes are placing the country at the forefront of the anti-smoking crusade. In 1995, Canadian tobacco companies used constitutional free speech provisions to strike down the country's tobacco law, which banned cigarette advertising and sponsorship. A new law, passed in April 1997, restricts most advertising, particularly ads aimed at young people. It permits ads only in publications with primarily adult readerships, and allows company names and logos to be featured in association with tobacco-sponsored events, although the brand name is restricted to the bottom 10 percent of displays for the events. The law also bans contests or lotteries associated with cigarette sales, and has increased cigarette taxes.

"Each and every year [tobacco] kills more than 40,000 Canadians," Health Minister David Dingwall told the Senate committee reviewing the bill. "How could any responsible government not act to deal with this threat to the health of its citizens?"

In their efforts to oppose the bill, tobacco companies threatened to pull the plug on the many arts and cultural events they sponsor. "[W]without being able to take credit for their sponsorship or promote events sufficiently to attract patrons, it is unrealistic to expect commercial enterprises to continue to pay out tens of millions of dollars for them," says Marie-Jose Lapointe, vice-president of communications for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Association (CTMC).

In the final days of parliamentary hearings in early April 1997, lobbying on the bill was intense. Tobacco lobbyists filed steadily into the hearing room, emphasizing the themes of individual freedom and responsibility, and criticizing the intrusion of government in the private lives of Canadians. They came from industry-funded groups such as the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing, the Coalition for Commercial Free Speech, and the Alliance for Sponsorship Freedom, which represented arts events that are sponsored by tobacco companies.

The Alliance, which operates out of the Toronto-based industry public relations firm Ellman Worldwide, placed several ads in papers across the country on the companies' tab. Alliance head Max Beck still holds out hope that the law's foes can get amendments made. "We hope that with a different cast of characters after the next election we can get a different hearing," he says.

Not all arts groups were against the bill, however. Artists for Tobacco-Free Sponsorship supported the advertising and sponsorship restrictions, although Lorraine Fry, spokesperson for the group, would have preferred to see an endowment created by the increased tax revenues to assist artists in making the transition from tobacco sponsorship to other funding sources. Without such a provision, she says the law is "somewhat of a tax grab."

The tobacco industry also had a valuable ally in Canada's big advertisers, who faced the loss of an important client if the bill passed. The Canadian Outdoor Advertisers Association placed ads against the bill worth about $575,000 on its members' billboards and transit shelters across the country.

However, the advertising blitz failed to prevent the bill from passing. Following the bill's passage, Peter Gallop, chair of one of Canada's largest billboard advertising firms, Gallop & Gallop, was circumspect on his association's strategy, saying that to influence legislation, companies must engage in "attitudinal" advertising. "You have to [advertise] for a longer period." he says. "The nuclear industry, and the pulp and paper industry are now doing this, and they're winning. But to do attitudinal advertising -- where you're trying to change attitudes over the long-term -- they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Within days of the bill's passage, tobacco companies launched another lawsuit, hoping once again to defeat the law on free speech grounds.

"The rules are so impossible to meet that it is a de facto ban on advertising," says CTMC President Robert Parker.

But the government maintains that the law will withstand constitutional scrutiny. "In crafting this legislation, we have drawn on the guidance provided by the Supreme Court," the health minister says.

In late April, the companies lost the first battle, failing to obtain an injunction preventing implementation of the law.

The companies are also facing opposition at other levels of government.

On January 1, 1997, Toronto began prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars, except in separately ventilated rooms composing no more than 25 percent of the establishment. But following widespread disregard for the new law, the city backed off somewhat, permitting smoking sections that are not separately ventilated.

Councillor Peter Tabuns, who chairs the city's Board of Health, introduced the original bill. "Second-hand smoke kills people," he says. "And we feel this law can work without any economic impact."

Ontario Restaurant Association President Paul Oliver disagrees. "The original bill simply wasn't workable. It resulted in a significant sales decline and job loss." While Oliver was somewhat pleased with the flexibility of the amendment, he states the law is still a "one size fits all approach," that will cost restaurants money. "In a small restaurant or night club of 10 to 20 seats, you can't effectively set up smoking and non-smoking sections," he says.

Health groups, initially elated at the passage of the bill, were disappointed that the City Council subsequently weakened it. Cathy Gapp, health promotions consultant with the Canadian Cancer Society, notes that Toronto has one of the lowest smoking rates of any North American city, with only 19 percent of residents hooked on cigarettes. "We are disappointed that very few in a vocal minority were able to intimidate the politicians," she says.

However, the law remains one of the most stringent municipal anti-smoking laws in North America.

At the provincial level, British Columbia is considering a lawsuit, similar to those launched by more than 20 U.S. states, to reclaim the cost to the health-care system of smoking-related diseases.

On June 16, British Columbia (BC) Premier Glen Clark demanded that tobacco companies admit nicotine is addictive and help pay for treating smoking-related diseases. "It's time to leave our kids alone and take responsibility for the harm done to our kids," he told reporters.

BC takes in $450 million in taxes from tobacco companies, but estimates that it pays $500 million in treating smoking-related diseases through the government-run medical system. Clark intends to introduce legislation increasing tobacco taxes and wants to encourage the industry to take measures to discourage young people from picking up the habit. If the industry does not oblige, he intends to take them to court to recover these costs.

The CTMC's Parker referred to the BC initiative as a "thinly disguised and politically motivated tax grab." -- Aaron Freeman

Incinerating El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR -- The recently elected Mayor of San Salvador, Hector Silva, will probably be forced against his will to accept the construction of a waste incinerator plant by the Canadian multinational corporation Continental Waste Conversion/Global Waste & Energy. Before the March elections in El Salvador, concerned environmental, community, and human rights organizations protested the impending construction of the incinerator between the two marginal communities of Nejapa and Apopa. In 1995, the former Mayor of San Salvador, Mario Valiente (of the extreme right-wing party- ARENA), signed a contract with Continental Waste Conversion/Global Waste & Energy to construct the incinerator. Originally scheduled to begin March 1996, the construction of the incinerator has been continuously postponed because of the controversy.

In mid-January, Greenpeace Central America, together with Salvadoran ecologists, invited environmental scientist Dr. Paul Connett to speak about the merits of incineration plants versus integrated waste management systems. In television interviews Connett addressed the public health hazards of incinerator plants and criticized the environmental impact study conducted by Continental Waste Conversion. "It was the worst study I've seen in over 11 years of work," Connett said. The study, Connett said, should have been conducted prior to Valiente's signing of the contract by independent researchers, with the full consultation of the public and regulatory bodies. Only after months of public pressure did Continental Waste Conversion conduct a study at all.

Silva recently expressed his disapproval of the construction of the incinerator in Prensa Grafica, the main newspaper in San Salvador. "An incinerator just doesn't make sense when you figure in the health and environmental risks involved," Silva stated. "Recycling and composting are not outside the realm of possibilities for this country. Many developing countries with similar economic and social problems have come up with creative solutions," Silva continued. The mayor also expressed an interest in negotiating a deal with Continental Waste Conversion/Global Waste & Energy to construct a recycling plant instead of the incinerator.

However, it is not the Mayor's decision alone that will affect the fate of the project. Silva will be pressured to negotiate by other ministries and municipalities of the city as well as by Continental Waste Conversion. The Mayor's Council of Greater San Salvador (COAMSS) has not ruled out the possibility of the incinerator and is currently waiting for a review of the controversial environmental impact study by the city's urban planning office. COAMSS has a history of being favorable towards foreign investment of this kind, demonstrated recently by its support of reducing taxes on foreign-owned waste management facilities. But COAMSS has already expressed a desire that other forms of waste management, including recycling, be made part of San Salvador's waste management system.

The Secretary of the Environment as well as the Minister of Health of San Salvador have declined to comment on the validity of the environmental impact statement submitted by Continental Waste Conversion.

Meanwhile, Continental Waste is aggressively pushing the project and threatening to demand payment even if the project is cancelled. "We will construct the incinerator or demand payment of $10 million," declares Birger Munck, president of Continental Waste Conversion/Global Waste & Energy. "It's fine with us either way," he adds. When asked why CWC was requesting $10 million if the project was discarded, Munck explains that the corporation had already spent millions on the environmental impact study and other preparations.

Even though Munck does express an interest in adding a separation/recycling component to the overall project, he maintains that the incinerator will have to be included in order for him to agree to any negotiations. "We are primarily interested in the energy produced by the incineration plant," states Munck.

Asked what he thought would be the final decision from the city, Munck concludes that the other governing bodies will eventually sway Mayor Silva's position. "Besides the amount they would have to pay to us," Munck adds, "there is a huge incentive for the city government not to give up this project because the Canadian government has offered to give 50 million U.S. dollars towards the construction of a landfill for the city if the government of San Salvador decides to go ahead with the incinerator project."

According to CESTA, an environmental organization based in San Salvador, approximately 1,500 tons of garbage are generated daily throughout the greater metropolitan area, of which 50 to 100 percent would be incinerated at the proposed plant. The incineration of three tons of garbage produces one ton of ash released into the air. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the ash produced by solid waste incineration is toxic. The ash contains high levels of lead, dioxin and cadmium, in addition to other dangerous substances such as arsenic, nickel and mercury. According to a 1994 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, dioxins are carcinogenic and can cause severe health disorders, such as birth defects, alterations in development and endocrine, reproductive and immune system disorders.

CESTA argues that the incinerator will further exacerbate El Salvador's overwhelming environmental crisis. Currently, one of the leading causes of death in the country, according to the Pan American Health Organization, is acute respiratory infections. "The already low quality of the air we breath can only be made worse by this incinerator," CESTA states.

In El Salvador, the technical and legislative restrictions necessary to limit environmental contamination from waste incineration do not exist.

In various public declarations CESTA has continuously asked, "What does it mean that a corporation based in another country has more to say about the fate of a city than the mayor? What does it mean when the current mayor, a representative of the people, has no power in protecting the health and environment of the city?"

-- Danielle Knight

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