Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Canadian parliament attempted to discourage smoking by significantly raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products and by severely limiting the advertising of those products.

Summary of Event

In the years since cigarette smoking became a regular feature of polite society, the health effects of the practice have been debated. By the end of the 1970’s, no responsible independent scientist or physician denied the ability of tobacco products to impair seriously or destroy the health of those who used those products. In response to this consensus, many public laws limiting the locations where individuals could smoke were passed. Some of the most severe of these restrictions were incorporated in Canada’s landmark Tobacco Products Control Act. The legislation, which passed the Canadian parliament in June, 1988, was designed both to decrease the number of new smokers starting the practice and to encourage current smokers to abandon the habit. Tobacco Products Control Act (Canada, 1988) Tobacco Antismoking legislation Smoking;control legislation Taxation;Canada [kw]Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act (June, 1988) [kw]Tobacco Products Control Act, Canada Passes the (June, 1988) [kw]Act, Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control (June, 1988) Tobacco Products Control Act (Canada, 1988) Tobacco Antismoking legislation Smoking;control legislation Taxation;Canada [g]North America;June, 1988: Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act[06800] [g]Canada;June, 1988: Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act[06800] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;June, 1988: Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act[06800] [c]Health and medicine;June, 1988: Canada Passes the Tobacco Products Control Act[06800] Mulroney, Brian Sweanor, David Neville, Bill

The first major legal restrictions on cigarette smoking were enacted in the United States when the Ninety-fifth Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling Act of 1965, Cigarette Labeling Act (1965) which required all cigarette packages to carry a warning label stating the general health risks associated with smoking. As a result of both the increasing explicitness of the warning and a ban on television and radio advertising of tobacco products (enacted in 1970), the number of smokers in North America declined during the 1970’s. By the mid-1980’s, Canada was ready to assume a world leadership role in the restriction of smoking. In November, 1987, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government, in a rare event, received the support of all the parties in Parliament for the proposed Tobacco Products Control Act.

The legislation, which passed with no effective opposition in June, 1988, contained four key planks. First, all tobacco advertising was phased out over a period of thirteen months. This included not only radio and television advertisements, which had been informally banned for more than fifteen years in some locations, but also all newspaper, magazine, and billboard advertisements. Second, the law prohibited any point-of-sale advertising and also forbade tobacco companies from sponsoring cultural events or sports contests as a means of promoting their products. The third principal element of the law was a requirement that all tobacco products carry large, explicit warnings on all packages. Also, each pack of cigarettes was required to contain a warning leaflet wrapped over the top one-quarter of the package. This warning label could not be printed using colors that blended in with the general packaging of the product. The final element of the law was the application of a high tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in Canada. The specific purpose of the tax was to discourage the use of tobacco by making the habit very costly. The Tobacco Products Control Act became fully effective on June 1, 1991.

The premise underlying the legislation was labeled, alternately, progressive and paternalistic. Canada’s vocal and highly organized Non-Smokers’ Rights Association Non-Smokers’ Rights Association[Nonsmokers Rights Association] hailed the legislation and asserted that it would contribute toward a decline in tobacco use throughout the country. Passage of the act represented a continuation of the group’s fight to make Canada the first smoke-free industrialized nation in the world. Representatives of the tobacco companies assailed the new law for its interference with smokers’ and advertisers’ free-speech rights through the limitations placed on advertising. They also pointed to the advertising restrictions as another example of the regulatory harassment to which they said the tobacco companies had been subjected.

The fear and ire of the tobacco companies reflected the effects of Canada’s two-pronged attack. The cost of a standard package of cigarettes rose from approximately $2.10 (Canadian) in September, 1984, to an average of $5.25 by March, 1991. Calculated over the course of one year, this increase meant that a one-pack-a-day smoker would pay $800 in new federal taxes and up to $1,700 per year when the provincial taxes were included. (The cigarette manufacturers were unable to increase prices by the full amount of the taxes.) These increases served to accelerate the pace at which smoking declined in Canada.

Before the new legislation, smoking in Canada had been decreasing by approximately 3 percent each year since the early 1980’s. In 1989, it fell by more than 8 percent, and by July, 1990, it had fallen another 8 percent. The consequences of fewer smokers for the tobacco companies worked out to a 19.6 percent drop in cigarette consumption from February, 1990, to February, 1991. In addition, the tax increases were designed specifically to limit the number of young people developing the smoking habit. According to the 1991 Canadian federal budget, a 10 percent price increase was expected to reduce cigarette consumption by younger Canadians by as much as 14 percent and consumption by adults by between 4 and 9 percent. According to a Canadian governmental study, the rate of teenage smoking in Canada was cut in half between 1980 and 1989, while it remained relatively level in the United States. When Michael Wilson, Wilson, Michael a former finance minister, proposed a potential new tax, he estimated that the new levy would shrink the number of teen smokers in Canada by 100,000.

The tobacco companies did not calmly accept the Tobacco Products Control Act and the threat it represented to their long-term corporate health. From June, 1988, when the law passed, the manufacturers, operating under the umbrella of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council, Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council an industry advocacy and lobbying organization, fought back against the new restrictions using their own two-pronged attack. First, the manufacturers challenged the advertising restrictions in court. Citing the ban on all advertising and the rigid specifications for the warning labels, they claimed that their right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights (1982), was violated. In a ruling handed down on July 26, 1991, Justice Jean-Jude Chabot Chabot, Jean-Jude agreed with the industry and removed the advertising ban, effective immediately.

The industry also attempted to mobilize Canadian smokers into a lobbying organization. The Smokers’ Freedom Society Smokers’ Freedom Society[Smokers Freedom Society] was organized to fight Parliament’s measures to discourage and curtail smoking through taxation. In addition, the cigarette companies began inserting postage-paid protest cards on the inside of most packs of cigarettes. Bearing the message, “I am of voting age. I want you to stop unfair taxation of tobacco products in Canada. What are you going to do about it? I expect a reply,” the cards were designed to intimidate Mulroney and his government into backing down in their support of the antismoking policies. In a reaction that reflected the deep feelings on both sides of the issue, the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health Canadian Council on Smoking and Health tried to pursue legal action to stop the manufacturers from inserting the cards, charging that the cards violated the Tobacco Products Control Act’s stringent packaging specifications.


The immediate consequences of the Tobacco Products Control Act were a significant increase in the cost of cigarettes and a resulting reduction of as much as 25 percent in Canada’s per-capita use of cigarettes. Such a reduction could provide long-term savings for the federal government, which provides all Canadian citizens with health care through a socialized system. The decrease in the number of smokers could mean that in the long term the government may need to spend less on the treatment of emphysema, heart disease, and all the forms of cancer related to cigarette smoking. In addition, some of the added revenues generated by the higher taxes were spent to increase the general public’s access to smoking-cessation programs.

In practical terms, the new taxes did not always help the Mulroney government. As the new levies took effect, a visibly significant increase in cigarette smuggling occurred. Those areas that bordered the United States, where the average cost of a pack of cigarettes remained around $1.60, reported increases in cross-border shopping as well as in smuggling, black marketeering of American cigarettes, and burglaries and hijackings of Canadian cigarette dealers.

The problems caused by the conflicting interests of the tobacco manufacturing companies and the government created one of the most difficult balancing acts associated with the legislation. The former’s free-speech rights in the advertisement of their products were poised against the latter’s right and obligation to act in a manner that recognized the will of the majority of Canadians to have a less smoker-oriented culture. As a result, actions to limit the basic rights of those who sell or consume cigars, cigarettes, and other tobacco products have represented a dangerous and difficult path.

Perhaps more important than these obvious areas of significance could be the eventual impact of the smokers’ and nonsmokers’ rights movements. Smokers believed that their rights of assembly and enjoyment were being reduced markedly and that they were being forced to contribute a disproportionate share of the government’s operating expenses. Nonsmokers, who enjoyed a temporary success with the Tobacco Products Control Act, still pushed for the recognition of an absolute right not to absorb the extremely high health costs for those smokers who eventually develop one of the many deadly or debilitating diseases associated with smoking. In the years following passage of the act, the antismoking movement gained further momentum in Canada as well as in other countries. Many of Canada’s provinces adopted nonsmoking bans in workplaces, and, in 2006, Ontario and Quebec introduced bans in public spaces in general—including bars, restaurants, and schools—to protect citizens from the ill effects of secondhand smoke. Tobacco Products Control Act (Canada, 1988) Tobacco Antismoking legislation Smoking;control legislation Taxation;Canada

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Diehl, Harold S. Tobacco and Your Health: The Smoking Controversy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969. Excellent resource for the general reader, although somewhat dated and occasionally limited by a biased tone. The author’s extensive background in the field of public health makes this a compelling, if somewhat polemical, work. Includes glossary, informative appendixes, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fritschler, A. Lee, and Catherine E. Rudder. Smoking and Politics: Bureaucracy Centered Policymaking. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2006. Examines the complex issues involved in policy making concerning tobacco use in the United States. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodin, Robert E. No Smoking: The Ethical Issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Presents philosophical analyses of the ethical issues prompted by the existence of an industry dedicated to producing and selling a dangerous product. Treats smoking as a political issue, one with a correct moral position. Includes comprehensive list of scientific studies on the effects of smoking.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Patterson, James T. The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987. Scholarly study of cancer in American society includes an engaging chapter that examines the relationship between tobacco and cancer. Provides thorough discussion of the issue of cigarette advertising. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schaler, Jeffrey A., and Magda E. Schaler, eds. Smoking: Who Has the Right? Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998. Collection of essays addresses the history of the regulation of tobacco use, smoking as a public health issue, and debates concerning the rights of smokers and nonsmokers. Includes suggestions for further reading.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tollison, Robert D., ed. Smoking and Society: Toward a More Balanced Assessment. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1986. Collection of papers presented at a 1984 conference examines the economic, health, psychological, and social aspects of tobacco use in American society. Valuable to readers in search of specific data. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Troyer, Ronald J., and Gerald F. Markle. Cigarettes: The Battle over Smoking. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1983. Focuses on the cultural evolution of smoking, specifically the progress of the habit from a mark of immorality to a mark of social sophistication to deviant behavior. Includes discussion of the powerful groups with vested interests in destigmatizing smoking. Includes index.

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Categories: History