Anti-smoking groups fume over McLellan

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Anti-smoking groups fume over McLellan

$13M shaved from anti-tobacco budget

Mark Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Anti-smoking groups fumed yesterday that federal Health Minister Anne McLellan is soft on the tobacco industry and doesn't "champion" their cause at the cabinet table.

Ms. McLellan snapped back that she's committed to reducing cigarette smoking. But she doesn't want to leap into imposing more controls on the industry without being assured they would stand up in court.

The stinging declaration against Ms. McLellan came in a joint statement by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. It was released in Ottawa just before Ms. McLellan marked Weedless Wednesday by announcing new federal "cessation" programs to help smokers break the habit.

The two anti-tobacco groups say that Ms. McLellan has "put on ice" some of the regulatory plans conceived by her predecessor, Allan Rock.

The first was a plan to ban tobacco companies from using light and mild labels on their products. Mr. Rock had also forced tobacco companies to put gruesome pictures on their cigarette packs and unveiled, in April 2001, a five-year, $480-million program to combat tobacco.

Ms. McLellan has quietly cut the tobacco-control budget by $13 million -- leaving $58 million to spend this year. The money was reallocated to environmental safety and air and water quality.

Nor has she banned light and mild labels, and the groups complain that the tobacco industry is being allowed to use Web sites and retail store displays to aggressively market to potential smokers, particularly youths.

"Over a year has passed, and the minister has yet to demonstrate leadership on this issue," said Cynthia Callard, executive director of the physicians' group. "This is a health file. The champion has to be the health minister. We know we had a champion in the last health minister."

In her speech yesterday morning, Ms. McLellan revealed the government, in addition to preventing youth smokers, will help committed smokers aged 40 to 54 to stop smoking.

"She sees the problem as hard core smokers," said Ms. Callard. "She doesn't see the problem as tobacco companies that continue to market aggressively to kids and continue to mislead."

But Ms. McLellan said the government expects such a ban on light and mild ads would be met with a lawsuit, and she wants to make sure the government would win the case.

"We need to make sure we've got all our ducks in a row."

Ms. McLellan said the tobacco program cuts won't prevent the program from achieving its objectives.

"It would be a nice if we lived in a world where the minister of finance simply wrote blank cheques to us all to achieve all our objectives, legislative and otherwise. But he doesn't do that and he expects us to reallocate, and I have to reallocate like everybody else."

© Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen


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