Cigarette advertising quietly returned to Canadian periodicals last year. JTI-Macdonald Corp., one of the country’s largest tobacco companies, spent hundreds of thousands on marketing in magazines such as the Canadian edition of Time, and in alternative weeklies such as Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, Montreal’s Mirror and Toronto’s Eye Weekly.
Tobacco ads almost completely disappeared from print publications after the federal government passed the Tobacco Act in 1997. Among other things, the Act placed heavy restrictions on advertising. Lifestyle ads, defined in the Act as “advertising that associates a product…with a positive or negative emotion about…a way of life,” were banned outright, as were testimonials, and ads depicting a “person, character or animal.”
The tobacco industry felt these restrictions were too harsh—an implicit ban—and pulled almost all its advertising from Canadian print. (Leading National Advertisers, which tracks advertising sales at 98 magazines, counted just three full-page ads for “smoking materials” in 2006, compared to 12 in 2007. These ads, which appeared in Time and Eye Weekly, were worth about $300,000 based on rate-card figures.) Canada’s largest tobacco companies argued against the Act in courts, claiming it violated their right to freedom of expression, but in June, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 9-0 in favour of upholding it.
The Supreme Court ruling wasn’t all bad news for cigarette companies. According to André Benoît, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at JTI-Macdonald, it clarified two aspects: 1) Any cigarette advertising that contains only “factual” information would be considered acceptable, and 2) All cigarette advertising must refrain from particularly appealing to youth. “The word ‘particularly’ is important,” Benoît says. “ If you read the original Tobacco Act, you could say any kind of advertising can be attractive to kids, whether through colour or wording.”
The JTI-Macdonald ad campaigns from last year promote new brands of cigarettes that contain additives that can mask the smell or taste of smoke. The images are all simple shots of cigarettes packages. The copy of one ad introduces “A new member of the More international family, subtly aromatized with whisky flavouring.” Another ad claims the Mirage cigarettes are the “First in Canada with unique Less Smoke Smell (LSS) Technology.”
Benoît says the ads will continue this year, as JTI-Macdonald is set to unveil three new products.
Critics say the recent ads violate the section of the Act that prohibits ads “likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics, health effects or health hazards of the tobacco product or its emissions.”
“People will think that if there is less of a smoke smell, there is less smoke and therefore less harm,” Cynthia Callard, director general of Physicians For a Smoke-Free Canada, told the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). Her organization has lodged a formal written complaint with Health Minister Tony Clement and Health Canada is now investigating.
“We make no health claims whatsoever about the product,” Benoît said.
Calls to Eye Weekly, the Georgia Straight and Time were not returned.