With air pollution from fossil fuels responsible for up to 34,000 premature deaths in Canada, but the fossil industry still allowed to market its products as a boon to all, Ottawa must put an end to the spin-doctoring, says the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
On behalf of 700,000 health professionals across Canada, CAPE has launched an ad ban campaign calling on the Trudeau government for a “comprehensive ban” on all fossil fuel advertising: from ads produced by fossil companies directly, to those deployed by gas utilities and auto manufacturers and dealers—much in the way that Canada engaged in another public health crisis, the fight against tobacco.
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CAPE notes the established correlation between fossil fuel combustion and premature death (1 in 7 premature deaths in Canada are caused by fossil fuel air pollution), as well as the lethal dangers posed by the fossil-driven climate crisis.
“The health impacts of climate change related to rising temperatures and extreme heat, wildfires, and the expansion of zoonotic diseases into Canada are not just future concerns, but impacts already being experienced today,” the open letter states. CAPE cites the “heat dome” and floods that killed more than 600 people in British Columbia last year, as well as the projection that heat-related hospitalizations will increase at least 21% by 2050.
While Canada has made effective interventions to decrease smoking prevalence, like taxation and advertising bans, “the federal government has only engaged some of the tools it wielded in the fight against tobacco in order to limit fossil fuel combustion and mitigate climate change,” CAPE writes.
The doctors urge a “robust regulatory response to address misleading environmental claims by fossil fuel companies,” including the assertions that fossil fuels can be made carbon neutral and that natural gas is “clean.”
CAPE says these and other lies designed to promote the fossil industry as sustainable—claims that weaken public support for faster, deeper carbon cuts—continue to circulate widely in Canada, even though the Competition Act expressly prohibits businesses from misleading consumers about their products and services.
CAPE wants Ottawa to mandate “disclosure of the health and environmental risks associated with fossil fuel production and use,” like on a cigarette box, noting that natural gas utilities tout their product as clean despite “mounting evidence that children living in homes with gas stoves have up to a 42% increased rate of asthma, comparable to living with a smoker.”
Noting that Canadian broadcasters allot free time to public service announcements about the risks of smoking and alcohol, CAPE points to the absence of any “parallel effort to inform the public about the health and environmental risks of carbon pollution and other pollutants generated by the burning of fossil fuels.”