Pubdate: Wed, 15 Feb 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Laura Kane
Page: B3


VANCOUVER - Garfield Mahood has spent 30 years fighting for the
Canadian government to require plain packaging for cigarettes. So, the
long-time nonsmokers' rights activist said he doesn't have much faith
in the government's ability to regulate and restrict the marketing of

"They identified tobacco products as a cause of disease back in the
1950s," said Mahood, president of the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco
Fraud. "They've never been able to bring this epidemic close to a 

"What would give you faith that health departments are going to
effectively regulate any health problems related to these other drugs?"

As the Liberal government prepares to introduce legislation to
"legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana" before this
summer, one area the cannabis industry and public health advocates are
watching is whether it will allow companies to brand and promote their

A task force appointed by the federal government recommended it
require plain packaging and a limit to advertising similar to the
restrictions on tobacco. But licensed producers of medical marijuana
argue that cannabis isn't as dangerous as tobacco and that branding
and marketing are necessary to attract consumers from the black market
to the legal industry.

Mahood began advocating for plain packaging on tobacco in the
mid-1980s. Governments over the years declined to implement it until
2016, when Health Minister Jane Philpott vowed to ban branding on
cigarette boxes and a bill was introduced in the Senate.

The aim is to strip the industry's ability to attach "sophistication
and allure" to its products, said Mahood, and to prevent it from
detracting from public health warnings.

While there is a lot that researchers still don't know about
marijuana, it's not a benign substance and there are health risks,
said Rebecca Jesseman, a senior policy adviser at the Canadian Centre
on Substance Abuse, which supports plain packaging.

The inhalation of any hot vapour into the lungs is harmful, while
edible products have been linked to over consumption and increased
emergency room visits in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is
legal, she said.

"It's much easier to be more restrictive from the outset and then
loosen the restrictions as you learn, than it is to start out with
looser regulations and try to make them more stringent."

Cam Battley, executive vice-president at Aurora Cannabis, said he
would never call a psychoactive substance completely benign. But he
said marijuana is more benign than alcohol or tobacco. "There are
millions of Canadians who purchase cannabis. What the federal
government is trying to do is get people to switch over from the
illegal and unregulated market to the regulated market," he said.

"If they want to do that, it makes sense to allow us to state who we
are, to establish our brands, to justify why it makes sense for
consumers to go through the legal system instead of going to somebody
they know in the neighbourhood."

In terms of advertising, Battley said he believes that cannabis should
be treated essentially the same as liquor, a sector where companies
cannot show people using the product in commercials or target underage

The federal task force recommended that plain marijuana packaging be
allowed to include the company name, strain name, price, amounts of
psychoactive ingredients and warnings.

But that information isn't enough to ensure people can buy the product
they want, said Mark Zekulin, president of Tweed, a subsidiary of
Canopy Growth, the largest of Canada's publicly traded marijuana
companies. "If you try to compare five different whiskies, they're all
going to be 35 per cent alcohol or 40 per cent alcohol, but at the end
of the day they're all different," he said. "Cannabis is more diverse."

A ban on branding and advertising could create a more level playing
field between large licensed producers and smaller "craft" growers,
said Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University.

But Meredith said it would be a problem for the federal government if
it allows marketing of liquor, but not cannabis. The argument that
producers need branded packaging and advertising in order to lure
users from the illegal market has some merit, he added. "The whole
idea of branding, developed hundreds of years ago, was because 10 of
us made a product. Nine of us did a lousy job making it. One guy did a
good job. People who were using the product wanted to know which guy
was doing it."
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MAP posted-by: Matt