Tuesday, June 30, 2009
In defense of tobacco advertising
Print advertising got a ringing endorsement from the federal government last month when Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq proposed a bill that will eliminate any and all cigarette advertising from print publications.

Filter Cigarettes has been using Canadian publications to promote its "World Famous American Blend."
Didn’t they ban tobacco ads a long time ago, you ask? Pretty much, but a couple of years ago, a Supreme Court ruling on the 1997 Tobacco Act opened the doors for nicotine-pushers to run commercials in magazines and newspapers, as long as the ads didn’t have any “lifestyle” elements (i.e. no good-looking people holding cigarettes at awesome parties), didn’t specifically appeal to children (i.e. no camels), and were run in publications with more than 85% adult readers. 

But the amendment, which has passed through the house and is “awaiting senate approval” (i.e. which is basically already law), will put an end to all that.

I can’t imagine how the ads that have run in publications such as Eye Weekly, Time Canada, Toronto Life and the Georgia Straight over the last couple of years could convince anyone to take up the nasty habit. All of them basically look the same: A pack of cigarettes sitting on a dull grey background with a bunch of warnings about the dangers of smoking. If it wasn’t for the slightly hilarious tag lines like, “Come to where the flavor is,” you’d be forgiven for thinking these are anti-smoking promos.

Targeting tobacco is always an easy way for the feds to score brownie points. And this time, magazines are being forced to pay the ($1.3 million) price in foregone revenues. Never mind that cigarettes remain a legal, saleable product in Canada; never mind that the federal government collected $2.1 billion tax revenues from tobacco sales in 2007-2008; never mind that the back pages of most entertainment weeklies are filled with classifieds for “erotic massages” and “escorts”; never mind that the Ontario government produces a magazine called Food & Drink that generously promotes the consumption of alcohol.

It’s a shame our government believes we’re so gullible that it needs to censor what kinds of advertisements can and can’t run in our so-called free press. And you have to wonder, if some magazine for some reason decided to run a monthly column about the joys of smoking, would the government try to shut that down, too?

It’s funny, though: since we started covering this story, we’ve put in several calls to publishers of titles that have run the ads; not one of them has been willing to give us any on-the-record comment. Guilty much?
- Marco Ursi
About Me
Marco Ursi
Marco is the editor of MastheadOnline. His blog offers a mix of commentary, service and ideas related to Canadian magazines.

 E-mail: mursi@masthead.ca.

Twitter: @MarcoUrsi

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Jen says:
Masthead, why don't you do this anymore?...
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