MONTREAL (CP) - A federal law that bans tobacco sponsorship, restricts advertising and requires large warnings on cigarette packs is unconstitutional, lawyers for Canada's three largest tobacco companies argued Monday.
Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. and JTI-Macdonald Corp. argued before the Quebec Court of Appeal that the 1997 Tobacco Act effectively constitutes a total ban on advertising, which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled was unconstitutional in 1995.
"Our view is that this is deja-vu, that we're looking at a prohibition which is total again and that the Supreme Court has already essentially decided the matter in 1995," lawyer Simon Potter said outside the courtroom.
"There is no justification for a law which tells people that you cannot evoke images or evoke emotions," said Potter, representing Imperial Tobacco.
The companies said a 2002 Quebec Superior Court ruling upholding the federal law failed to address several key constitutional issues and contained numerous factual errors.
The federal government, the Canadian Cancer Society and anti-tobacco advocates said they will argue during five days of hearings the law is constitutionally valid.
While the restrictions on advertising and promotion infringe on freedom of expression, they are justified as a reasonable limit under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the cancer society said.
"We believe that these laws are essential to protect public health in Canada, to reduce smoking among adults and among children," said Rob Cunningham, lawyer for the cancer society."
"And it's working."
The youth smoking rate at 18 per cent is the lowest ever recorded. Smoking among adults has decreased to 21 per cent, compared with 30 per cent before these laws were enforced, Cunningham added.