Take tobacco out of the hands of business corporations—report

June 20, 2005

(Ottawa) – Because the public health goal of reducing tobacco use directly conflicts with the tobacco industry’s profit motive, the way to overcome the health, social and economic problems caused by “big tobacco” is to take the business of supplying cigarettes out of their hands and put it into the hands of public organizations with a clear public health mandate. This is the main recommendation of a new study published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and prepared by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. 

Curing the Addiction to Profits: A Supply-Side Approach to Phasing Out Tobacco argues that, as long as the supply of cigarettes is entrusted to business corporations, their legal responsibility to maximize profits and dividends for their shareholders will force them to oppose,

“Business corporations are the wrong choice for tobacco,” said Cynthia Callard one of the authors.  “They have a long and well-documented history of working against public health measures.  And where the public interest is vulnerable, Canadians have often chosen to place public-interest agencies in control. This choice should now be made for tobacco.” 

The authors review the many alternative forms of enterprise that are used to provide goods and services like health care, education, energy and culture. “There are many types of public-interest enterprise that could provide cigarettes to smokers while supporting public health goals,” said co-author David Thompson. “These include familiar government and non-government agencies: crown corporations, co-operatives, non-profits and charities, as well as more innovative models, like the community interest corporation.”

“We need to change the very nature of the corporate machine we have been fighting,” says co-author Neil Collishaw. “Eliminating the profit-motive from tobacco sales is a much more effective way to bring this grinding public health trench war—where we continue to lose five Canadians each hour to tobacco—to a quicker end."

The authors provide several models for how a public interest tobacco supplier could be designed, managed and financed. 

“There are few areas where the need for fundamental change is more compelling than in the case of tobacco,” said Bruce Campbell, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “This report challenges government to build transformation of corporate structures into public health strategies, and shows how this could be done.”

Curing the Addiction to Profits: A Supply-Side Approach to Phasing Out Tobacco was prepared with financial support from Health Canada and the Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative and the engagement of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Aurora Institute.

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For more information, contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Communications Officer, 613-563-1341 x306.