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HESA Committee Report

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"Proposed Regulations Amending the Tobacco Reporting Regulations"
July 2005

The Government thanks the Chair and Members of the Standing Committee on Health for their deliberations on the Proposed Regulations Amending the Tobacco Reporting Regulations under the Tobacco Act, S.C. 1997, c. 13, sbs. 42.1 (1) ("the Amending Regulations") and for their recommendation, set out in the Committee’s Sixth Report (38th Parliament, 1st Session), namely:

"That all information to be submitted to Health Canada under these regulations be made public. If need be, the Minister of Health should authorize its disclosure in the public interest in accordance with Section 20 (6) of the Access to Information Act."

The Government is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians and, in particular, ensuring that Canadians have access to information that can help make them make informed decisions on policies and practices that affect their well-being.

Health Canada’s legislative, regulatory and policy efforts on tobacco control are rooted in the Tobacco Act of 1997, which deals with the manufacture, sale, labelling, and promotion of tobacco products. The purpose of the Act, as described in Section 4, includes "to protect the health of Canadians in light of conclusive evidence implicating tobacco use in the incidence of numerous debilitating and fatal diseases" and "to enhance public awareness of the health hazard of using tobacco products".

The Government is pleased that the Standing Committee on Health endorses the Amending Regulations, which will provide vital information annually on the toxicity of cigarettes. This information will enable a close monitoring and assessment of any unanticipated changes in general cigarette toxicity as a result of the compliance by cigarette manufacturers with the cigarette ignition propensity regulations that will come into effect October 2005. Based on any observed trends, the Government will be able to take appropriate action to have the cigarette industry address any identified new risks to the health and safety of Canadians.

As Committee Members know, the cigarette ignition propensity regulations will require cigarettes to conform to an ignition propensity standard so as to reduce the risks of accidental fire from unattended lit cigarettes. Cigarette manufacturers’ are free to choose the technology and/or cigarette design characteristics to adopt to meet the standard. Full compliance with the standards is expected to yield a 34-68% reduction in accidental fires caused by manufactured cigarettes in Canada, translating into an estimated reduction of up to 36 deaths, 155 injuries and $19.1 million in property damage annually.

To address the unlikely possibility that compliance with the cigarette ignition propensity standard may lead to changes in cigarette composition and manufacture that inadvertently increase toxicity of some brands, the Amendments to the Tobacco Reporting Regulations will require manufacturers to perform annual toxicity tests on smoke emissions of cigarettes and to submit the results to the Minister of Health. This will enable the government to closely monitor any changes in cigarette toxicity and to take appropriate action to address human health and safety concerns.

In the context of ensuring openness and transparency and to provide Canadians with information of direct concern to their health and safety, we note that the Standing Committee concluded that the toxicity assessment information should be publicly disclosed, and that the Minister of Health should exercise his discretion under Section 20(6) of the Access to Information Act (ATIA) to, if need be, publicly release such information where warranted in the public interest.

Agreeing fully with the spirit and intent of the Standing Committee’s recommendation, the Government is pleased to affirm its ongoing strong commitment to openness and transparency and to the active and timely provision of information to Canadians and stakeholders on matters that affect their health and well-being. To these ends, the Government will publicly disclose all toxicity data, aggregated on an industry-wide basis, so as to enable a meaningful tracking and analysis of general trends in cigarette toxicity following the adoption of the ignition propensity standards.

The Government will also assess the appropriateness of publicly disclosing manufacturer or product-specific data that do not meet the tests for protection of confidentiality.

Finally, the Government remains strongly committed to ensuring the active and timely consideration of requests to disclose information that may be in the public interest, under the discretionary provisions of ATIA section 20(6).

We trust that the Chair and Members of the Standing Committee on Health will agree that the above measures constitute a responsible and balanced approach that emphasizes the fullest practical disclosure of information in the public interest, while respecting legitimate rights of confidentiality wherever the case for disclosure in the public interest is not sufficiently strong, as defined and prescribed under the ATIA.