In the 1950s, Canadians could turn on the radio or television, open a magazine, or gaze at a billboard promoting cigarette brands. Some boasted of their health "benefits," others were backed by doctors' "studies," but most were selling sophistication, aspiration or social acceptance — all traits that are coveted by youth.
The mass marketing of tobacco resulted in millions of youth taking up smoking, and millions of Canadians suffering serious illness or premature death as a result. Belatedly, in the 1990s, the federal government got serious about curbing advertising and marketing of an addictive drug — nicotine — delivered through the dangerous and toxic soup of cigarettes. The results are a public health success story: dramatically decreasing smoking rates, especially among youth.
Fast forward to 2017: Canada is moving too far, too fast to legalize recreational cannabis use, even though marijuana is addictive, dangerous and toxic. It delivers a powerful psychoactive chemical compound — Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — that causes impairment and serious damage in cognitive ability and brain development to users under 25. Like tobacco, smoking marijuana causes respiratory problems, damaged blood vessels and chronic coughing, and is linked to a higher risk of lung infections and heart attack. These are scientific facts, proven by peer-reviewed, independent clinical trials and studies.
This is not a proven scientific fact: cannabis can aid in treatment of serious conditions like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, among others. But that hasn't stopped misleading health claims from creeping in to the lexicon of medical marijuana producers.
The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding wants you to forget the deadly tobacco experience and allow legal cannabis producers to market their products as if they were sofas or deodorant sticks. This coalition consists entirely of cannabis producers driven by a desire to boost consumption, drive up sales and gain market share. There was no input from healthcare workers or medical experts in this coalition.
These producers claim that marketing legal cannabis is the best way to compete with the illicit "black market" of illegal pot. Educating the public on the risks of all cannabis products — legal and illicit — is the job of healthcare experts and advocates, not the pot producers who stand to profit.
Young people do not live in a media-filtered bubble, as any parent can tell you. The producers know that youth will be exposed to pot advertising wherever it appears, especially on social media, lulling them into the notion that marijuana is a harmless product.
Tobacco taught us valuable lessons about how to treat the marketing and promotion of toxic substances with significant youth appeal.
Did the federal government envision this when it announced it would legalize cannabis? Not according to their pre-legislative consultation.
The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, based on input from medical experts, strongly recommended that cannabis marketing be treated the same way as tobacco, namely "apply comprehensive restrictions to the advertising and promotion of cannabis and related merchandise by any means, including sponsorship, endorsements and branding, similar to the restrictions on promotion of tobacco products."
The federal government recently released proposed rules for regulating the packaging of cannabis products containing fewer restrictions than what was recommended by their own expert Task Force.
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This would mean that cannabis products will have lighter packaging restrictions than cigarettes, which sends a very dangerous message to youth.
Tobacco taught us valuable lessons about how to treat the marketing and promotion of toxic substances with significant youth appeal. Caving in now to the lobbying pressure of cannabis producers seeking to normalize pot like it's a some kind of benign substance would be repeating the errors of the past. Put simply, it's bad public policy.
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