A ban on smoking in private spaces and a phase-out of tobacco sales are among the measures Health Canada planned to offer up at the World Health Organization’s annual tobacco control conference this week.

A Health Canada tobacco control official said these are within the scope of the global treaty governing tobacco restrictions and should be presented to countries as they decide what policies to entertain.

Laura Smith, the director of tobacco and vaping policy in Health Canada’s Tobacco Control Directorate, delivered a presentation on “forward-looking tobacco control measures” at a November webinar hosted by Europe’s Joint Action on Tobacco Control initiative.

The session was a lookahead to the World Health Organization’s annual conference of the parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The conference, called COP10, is taking place in Panama.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was signed in 2003 “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”

The convention sets out universal standards for limiting tobacco, but as Smith noted in her presentation, countries are encouraged to “implement measures beyond those required by this Convention and its protocols” and impose “stricter requirements that are consistent” with the agreement.

One example provided by Smith was “smokefree private spaces (regulate or ban smoking in private places).

“Smoke-free private spaces involve the regulation of smoking in private places such as homes, vehicles, multi-unit housing, government-subsidized housing, balconies, patios, and yards belonging to housing complexes,” Smith said.

These policies have not been publicly proposed by the Canadian government.

Smith said that Canada would propose at the Panama conference the formation of an “expert group on tobacco control measures that are forward-looking” and within the scope of the WHO’s tobacco control framework.

In a statement to True North, a Health Canada spokesperson said Canada isn’t proposing any specific policies, but rather seeks to “generate new discussions.”

“Canada’s draft decision does not advocate for any one tobacco control measure. Rather, the intent of the draft decision is to generate new discussions and reinvigorate the collective response to the global tobacco epidemic,” the spokesperson said. “Specifically, the draft decision proposes to establish an expert group on tobacco control measures beyond those required by the (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), within the scope of Article 2.1.”

If Canada’s draft decision is adopted, parties to the convention will “identify and describe forward-looking tobacco control measures that expand or intensify approaches to tobacco control as they apply to tobacco products” and prepare a report ahead of COP11 next year.

All levels of government have a hand in smoking regulations. Smoking is banned in virtually all indoor public spaces across Canada and many outdoor public spaces.

There is no blanket ban on smoking in homes or cars, but all provinces prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children. Smoking is not illegal in apartment and condo units, but some buildings have instituted their own bans.

Other policy examples provided by Smith include limiting tobacco sales to “specialist stores,” a “polluter pays” framework that would force the tobacco industry to account for “environmental costs,” and imposing a “health levy or solidarity levy on the tobacco industry.”

Smith also discussed the idea of a “sinking lid” strategy on the amount of tobacco able to be sold each year. The amount would lower over time with the goal of eventually phasing out tobacco sales altogether.

COP 10 concludes Saturday.

This article has been updated to include a response from Health Canada.


  • Andrew Lawton

    A Canadian broadcaster and columnist, Andrew serves as a journalism fellow at True North and host of The Andrew Lawton Show.